John Cariani’s Almost, Maine onstage now at the Cary Arts Center under the direction of Randy Jordan and produced by Cary Players, is an oft-forgotten play, perhaps because of its unusual structure. The play, instead of being one comprehensive piece, features nine short vignettes or “mini-plays.” Their connection, other than the fact that previously-seen characters are often mentioned, is the fact that they all take place in the tiny not-quite-a-town of Almost, Maine.
And, while the play may not be one that is seen a lot, it is thoroughly unique, making it feel fresh and new despite the fact that it was first produced over ten years ago. The stories featured are timeless and deal with concepts of love, loss, and the search for human connection. And, in the Cary Players’ production, the strong acting and directing serve to fully bring the characters to life.
The production opens with a prologue featuring a young man, Pete (Christian O’Neal) and a young woman, Ginette (Liz Webb). The two characters have romantic feelings for each other, but end up frustrated whenever they try to communicate those feelings. That short interlude is an appropriate opening for the rest of the story, which deal with similar themes.
“Her Heart” is the first in the show. It is a cute, endearingly odd story of a woman Glory (Cindy Paciocco) who has journeyed to Almost to see the northern lights. In fact, she has journeyed right to the door of handyman East (Aaron Young), who ends up offering to fix her broken heart. The two actors share good chemistry, with Paciocco’s frenzied characterization melding well with Young’s softer, more subtle touches.
“Sad & Glad,” one of the show’s highlights comes next. In it, a young man, Jimmy (Juan Ortega) has an awkward interaction with a previous fling of his, Sandrine (Kirsten Ehlert). Their interaction is often peppered by the entrance of the overly-intrusive waitress, portrayed hilariously by Lu Meeks. This quirky little piece is funny throughout, but the ending- to reveal it would be to give too much away- is what truly makes it.
Other highlights include “They Fell,” a more than “bromantic” scene that once caused a North Carolina high school to cancel a production of the play. Here, it is well-acted and endearing, causing one to wonder how such a sweet story of romantic love evolving into more could ever be met with controversy.
And, most would agree that the highlight of the show is the last brief play, “Seeing the Thing.” Here, Lu Meeks returns, this time as Rhonda, a woman who has very little experience with love and romance and a man, Dave (Aaron Young), who is ready to romance her. Here, Jordan pulls out all the directorial stops, allowing his cast to squirm around on the floor and make full use of their physical comedy skills. It works wonderfully. The scene, ultimately touching, evoked serious laughter from last Saturday’s viewers.
As the show moves from one story to the next, all with a beautiful, starry, snowy backdrop of a set, it’s easy to see that there is something to like (and something to learn) for everyone. Jordan’s direction, combined with an incredibly-skilled cast, all add up to a show that’s different, enjoyable, and a true “must-see” for anyone looking to watch something a bit out-of-the-box.
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