Thursday, August 20, 2009
Theater review: Almost, Maine
The versatile cast of Theatre Coppell's Almost, Maine make the roles genuine and infinitely likable.
Wistful, ironic, amusing, warm, sweet-natured and sometimes melancholy, John Cariani's Almost, Maine (now playing at the Coppell Center for the Arts), is a series of short, meaningful episodes connected in curious ways. Certainly love ties them together. Love discovered and lost. The power of love to heal and damage and nudge us to a better place. But it doesn't end there. Cariani makes use of synchronicity (a favorite tool of filmmaker Jim Jarmusch) by setting each encounter at 9:30 p.m. on the same Friday night in January, when the Northern Lights are evincing in the sky over Almost, Maine. So each one of these parables about people caring for each other, troubled, flawed people (just like the rest of us) are happening at the same time. Somewhere somebody is laughing or weeping or embracing or leaving or kissing for the first time.
It must also be noted that Cariani builds each of these short playlets (?) on a metaphor. Without revealing too many secrets, for instance, the woman who carries her broken heart around in a paper bag, the estranged couple waiting for "the other shoe to drop," the perverse and dubious relationship between love and Hope. Cariani blurs the dividing line between a literal and figurative understanding of these images, often to great comedic effect. But, I think too, as a way of expanding on and enhancing our grasp of them. Almost, Maine takes what could possibly be dismissed as absurd and turns it into a wise, resonant way of absorbing the often enigmatic nature of love. Kudos too, to Cariani for including the realm of same-gender romance, and how friendship can sometimes take another turn.
The set design, by Robert Batson, is simple, yet evocative, creating the brisk chilly feel of snowy climes and the lives of blue collar couples who spend time together fishing or ice-skating or hoisting brews at a local pub called The Moose Paddy.
The absence of a credit for costume designer in the program is a bit frustrating and makes me wonder if the actors were encouraged to choose their own accoutrements for the multiple characters they played. Whoever is responsible, the success of this production is undeniably due to ingenuity and strategy here. The choice of a particular wig or cap or coat made all the difference and (bless their hearts) they didn't have a lot of time to change costumes.
The four actors who portray the eighteen inhabitants from Almost, Maine, deserve, I think, special praise. It is God's own sweet mystery how Director George Morrow and Brittania McCullough, Laurie McDonald, Ralph Strangis, and Gary Walters kept all those characters, discrete and thriving, in their heads. Each man and women feels distinct, subtle, quirky, and fully inhabited. Walters, Strangis, McCullough, and McDonald are exquisite and modulated, rising to this challenge with confidence and grace.
I think John Cariani was intentional in making these characters earnest and fairly uncomplicated, or at least as uncomplicated as love can ever be. The versatile cast of Theatre Coppell's Almost, Maine make the roles genuine and infinitely likable. Ask for directions before you leave, but don't miss it.
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