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A CurtainUp Review
Almost, Maine

By Elyse Sommer

Almost is inspired by the town I grew up in -- Presque Isle, Maine-- which is some 500 miles north of Boston. . .very far inland, and very far north, where the sky is big, the winters are long, and there's lots of space. . .They call Montana Big Sky Country. Well. . .they haven't seen northern Maine. --- Playwright John Cariani

I'm sorry if I made you mad. I don't know what I did wrong. I just gave you a kiss. I mean, just. . .why not give me one back? It's the polite thing to do, you know, get a kiss/give a kiss, very fair. Just. . .give me a kiss, Rhonda. ---Dave, to a gangly, never been kissed co-worker.

Todd Ceveris &  Finnerty Stevens in <i>Almost Maine</i>
Todd Ceveris & Finnerty Stevens in Almost Maine's "prologue&quo
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Justin Hagan &  Miriam Shor in Almost Maine
Justin Hagan & Miriam Shor in Almost Maine's " seeing the thing"
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
A Friday night in the middle of winter in Almost, Maine can get pretty cold and snowy. But happy and not so happy romances seem as abundant as the stars twinkling in the deep blue sky that overarches actor turned playwright John Cariani's vignettes. As groups of stars form constellations, so these brief episodes are connected by time and place (each occurs on a Friday night in the middle of winter in and around Almost) as well as their wistful charm, quirky humor and bracing sense of hopefulness.

As the citizens of Almost never got around to organizing themselves as a real town eligible to have its name on the state map, the Almostonians we meet seem not to have gotten around to sorting out and expressing their romantic yearnings. When they do, there are no eloquent interchanges. These people's deepest feelings can be located in the emotion fraught silences that punctuate what they say. (Could Harold Pinter have learned his famous pauses during an unpublicized youthful visit to Almost?)

Don't expect steamy sex either. For the folks in Almost a kiss is a big deal and usually has major consequences, and it takes a spurt of courage to land one. This applies even to a wondrously funny yet full of feeling Brokeback Mountain type episode called "they fell" which describes what happens between two long-standing buddies in both the physical and metaphorical sense.

As for the Almostians' hearts, they're broken and mended -- in "her heart" quite literally so. There are other "it could only happen in Almost" oddities. "getting it back" involves a woman who packs up the love received over the years in big plastic bags and returns them to her commitment-shy boyfriend, like an unwanted Christmas present. Then there's "where it went" in which a misplaced shoe drops mysteriously from the sky like a shooting star or, in this case, like the misplaced love of the shoe owner and her husband.

If all this sounds a little hokey, it is; yet there's a realness to these stories that keeps them from being cloyingly quaint and sweet. This is due in equal measure to Mr. Cariani's authentic dialogue and the exemplary quartet of actors portraying the twenty characters who people all the vignettes with warmth and understanding, Except for a non-verbal scene Cariani calls an "Interlogue" which features Pete, Todd Ceveris's "prologue" and "epilogue" character, each episode is a duet -- thus Ceveris and Justin Hagen both take turns pairing up with Finnerty Stevens or Miriam Shor. If I had to name a favorite scene it would be "they fell" in which Chad (Hagan) and Randy (Ceveris) discover that they like being with each other better than with girls and, with a few deft strokes make it plain that the love that dare not speak its name is present even in this far north corner of Maine. Even the piece veering closest to tragedy -- "story of hope" -- has its moment of comic relief.

As with any assemblage of sketches like this, some are better than others and it would be to the benefit of all if Almost, Maine were trimmed here and there so that the whole snowy tapestry could unfold without being interrupted by an intermission.

Director Gabriel Barre has worked most effectively with the designers to create the atmosphere of a tiny town where moving South for easier living doesn't mean Florida but Vermont. Whatever Almost, Maine's life span at the Daryl Roth will be, it's sure to have a healthy after life in small regional theaters where it could even be done with just two actors. For now, sophisticated New Yorkers may find this endearing little show just the ticket for escaping from cell phones and city tensions to a world where a kiss is not just still a kiss but a life changing big deal.

Playwright: John Cariani
Directed by Gabriel Barre
Cast: Todd Cerveris, Justin Hagan, Miriam Shor, Finnerty Steeves
Set Design: James Youmans
Costume Design: Pamela Scofield
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Tony Smolenski IV & Walter Trarbach
Music: Julian Fleisher
Running time: 2 hours, includes one 15-minute intermission
Daryl Roth, 20 Union Square East (at 15th)212-239-6200
From 12/15/06; opening 1/12/06.
Tue - Sat at 8pm; Sat at 4pm; Sun at 3pm, 7pm.
Tickets:$26 - $66.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on January 8th press performance
Closed 2/12/06

The  Playbill Broadway YearBook
The Playbill Broadway YearBook

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide


©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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