Friday, February 10, 2012

Love Amongst the Frigid -- "Almost, Maine"

                        Clockwise from upper left:) Cynthia Hannah, Tim Reilly, Katie Sparer
                        and Jim Schilling in the MTC MainStage production of "Almost, Maine."
                        Photo by Regina Madwed/Capitol Photointeractive

Love is a game not to be played by the faint of heart, for it is (to mix metaphors) an emotional rollercoaster ride with no safety belts. The trials and tribulations of those falling into and out of love are well documented in John Cariani’s “Almost, Maine,” which recently opened at MTC MainStage under the direction of MTC’s Executive Artistic Director Kevin Connors.
            The play is basically a series of vignettes set in a village that, well, almost became a town (hence the play’s name) in the chilly reaches of Maine. There are some regional touches imbedded in the skits, but basically what happens could occur just about anywhere in the United States of Love. Given that four actors, Cynthia Hannah, Tim Reilly, Jim Schilling and Katie Sparer, take on nineteen different roles throughout the evening with minimum costume changes, as a new scene unfolds it’s often difficult, at least initially, to distinguish the “new” characters from the “old’ ones. This leads to a lot of “Okay, who are these two” thinking and pressure on Cariani to provide exposition for almost every scene.
            The structure of the play reminded me of the series of one-act plays that the Theatre Artists Workshop puts on each year, albeit Cariani’s “playlets” have the central theme of love being a many splintered thing. Some of the vignettes work better than others. The prologue sets the stage for the basic quirkiness of most of the scenes: Pete and Ginette sit beneath the stars and hesitantly profess love for each other, but Pete’s take on intimacy is captured in the snowball he holds in his hand. You see, he is on one side of the snowball and she is on the other, and in Pete’s mind, for her to finally reach him and share true intimacy, she must travel not through the snowball (a distance of inches) but rather take the great circle route by going all the way around the world to finally reach the other side of the frozen orb where Pete awaits. This she reluctantly starts off to accomplish. End of scene.
            Several scenes deal with thwarted love -- a woman with a broken heart she keeps in a paper bag comes to Maine to see the Northern Lights and possibly say farewell to her unfaithful, dead husband, only to run into a repairman who may just be able to mend the heart; a couple try to rekindle their love by going skating, but they find their hearts are as cold as the ice; a woman returns to find the man who once proposed to her, hoping that love can be rekindled, only to find that time changes all things; another woman wants to sever her relationship with her boyfriend by returning all of the love (bags full) he gave her – she asks for a return of her love and he presents her with a small bag – discussion ensues.
            In perhaps the quirkiest and most memorable scene of all, two good ol’ boys, Randy and Chad, sit outside sipping suds and regaling each other with their “bad date” stories. Each admits they hate the dating scene and would rather spend time with known company doing familiar things. Well, this isn’t Brokeback Mountain territory, but falling in love can be expressed in many different ways, including literally.
            Despite that many of Cariani’s characters are nearly interchangeable and no major effort has been made by costume designer Diane Vanderkroef to visually distinguish these characters, the evening moves along apace under Connors’ direction. There are few guffaws to be had, but each scene does elicit more than a gentle smile and a knowing nod. There’s little depth to be had here, but Cariani isn’t Chekhov or Ibsen and doesn’t want to be.
            If we think of “Almost, Maine” as a meal, it is not a multi-course gourmand’s delight but rather a sampling from a tapas bar, with some offerings more satisfying than others consumed in a pleasant milieu with a well-drilled staff that’s more than eager to please.
            “Almost, Maine” runs through Sunday, Feb 19. For tickets or more information call 203-454-3883 or go to