A story about a small town and its inhabitants feels familiar. Variations on the setting of Everytown, USA in plays and literature have tended to focus on the eccentricities of its townsfolk and the universal, sometimes painful truths of life they discover. But things move more slowly in Everytown than in Almost, Maine, the city displayed in Theatre in the Park's sentimental production of the same name.
John Cariani's Almost, Maine feels less like an Our Town for our age and more of an alien life force sent to earth to show us how disconnected Small Town America is from the rest of life. The play does not have much of a plot; more so, it is comprised of vignettes centered on the quirky townsfolk of Almost attempting to connect and find love.
All of the scenes in the play are two-character scenes with tones that vary between poignant, hilarious, and downright sad. Vital information routinely revealed mid-scene shifts the characters into one of the three aforementioned feelings.
Director Carnessa Ottelin has cast four Triangle favorites to portray the play's 20+ characters. Portraying the men, Byron Jennings and Brian Yandle are notable counterparts to one another. Jennings excelled in giving quiet control to all of his characters, many of whom have been victims of some traumatic emotional pain. Yandle gave his eccentric characters quite a bit of slapstick antics, which felt out of place in some scenes.
The women, Page Purgar and Lorelei Mellon, stood out for displaying the depth (or lack) of resilience each of their characters experiences. Purgar especially stood out in a scene with Jennings in which she gave back all of the love he had given to her — literally throwing bags of love at him. Her sensitivity towards each of her characters gave dimension where depth was sometimes absent in the text. Mellon's youthful energy in scenes elicited full emotional investment from her audience whenever she was on stage, even when the characters she played felt similar; Mellon, like Purgar, gave each a depth that was surprisingly moving.
Almost, Maine pulls a kind of sentimental response from anyone who sees it. The play is a favorite for theatre companies big and small given the flexible tech and casting demands, though the writing is not up to par with Sam Shepard or even Del Shores, both playwrights who appear along with Cariani in TIP's September "rep" programming.
Almost, Maine is malleable in the sense that its director and cast can take the vignettes in a multitude of directions to emphasize themes like small-town isolation, the quest for true love, the lack of listening to one another when in love, or just plain sentimental love stories. This production focuses on the latter, emitting a warm, fuzzy feeling that many audience members spoke about after the show.
Thomas Muaney's lighting and Elaine Brown's costumes were used rather conservatively and could have been utilized more creatively to distinguish the isolation of this Maine town and its people's unique, quirky style.
Ottelin's production is a sweet, fleeting glimpse at small town lovers. The play's folly is that it is just that: it is only sweet and fleeting. It is not a Paris, Texas or the next Our Town, though it offers its actors and audiences the chance to celebrate falling in love without any of the earth-shattering baggage that other plays plague you with as you head home. Almost, Maine is a hopeful, rose-colored look at love. It does come with baggage, but nothing that isn't resolved quickly or brushed over.
It's one of the rare plays that has stuck around in the canon for its sweet approach to the harsh realities of love. It is debatable whether Cariani's script is more than fluffy love stories, but Ottelin's sweet production makes a solid case for the play continuing to please even the coldest of audiences.