How would you like to spend 10 minutes in a small town — 10 minutes in which you meet 19 interesting people and experience nine entertaining, endearing stories? There’s a place where you can do that, well almost, if you come to the Cary Arts Center and let Cary Players’ current community-theater production of John Cariani’s Almost, Maine take you there. Bonus: The 10 minutes that you spend in the unincorporated community known as “Almost, Maine” will turn into 90 minutes of rib-tickling, heartwarming and, yes, uplifting entertainment.
Almost, Maine is actually nine short plays all rolled into one. They all take place within a few miles of each other (pretty much in the middle of nowhere); they all take place at the same time on a Friday night; and they all reach their climaxes as the Northern Lights appear. Indeed, the Northern Lights seem to appear like magic in each of these vignettes at the precise moment that a new chapter opens in the lives of the characters.
We felt that the characters were “being given the green light” to move forward in their lives. (Just to reiterate: Although the play lasts 90 minutes, due to the fact that all nine stories happen simultaneously, the audience actually experiences the same 10 minutes nine times.)
Each of the stories deals with some aspect of love, and most (but not all) of them have happy endings. The first story is also the middle and the last, and its three parts are titled “Prologue,” “Interlogue,” and “Epilogue.” Ginette (a lively Liz Webb) revels in how she loves being close to Pete (a pensive Christian O’Neal), and a weird discussion ensues. The “Prologue” ends on a sad, yet amusing note; and their story concludes (in an unexpected fashion) in the “Epilogue.”
We were impressed by the fact that this particular story functions like “bookends,” neatly tying all of the others together. We also found it interesting that the various stories were tied together when certain names and places that are integral to one story would be mentioned in others.
In the intervening scenes, a whole slew of questions are answered such as:
- How do you move on when your “ex” apparently has already done so?
- Is there any hope for people who always experience disasters when out on a date?
- When is it the time right to “let someone in”?
- What happens next? (That is, what is the next step?)
- What are we waiting for? The other shoe to drop?
- How do you prepare for being hurt if you cannot feel pain?
- How do you get someone to give back all the love that you have given them? And vice versa?
- How do you know when you have fallen in love?
- Is there any hope for someone who has a misspelled tattoo?
There is no nudity in this show, but there is a striptease. And even though the play depicts nothing more intimate than a dozen or so kisses, we could tell that plenty more activity had been “green-lighted.” The actors hint at it quite well with the chemistry that they reveal in these short scenes.
Director Randy Jordan teamed up with master carpenter Todd Houseknecht to design a very imaginative, utilitarian set. It consists of a few “sub-sets” that are manipulated to establish different locations for the various scenes.
Both stage left and stage right have platforms that rotate, thereby establishing these different locations. For some of the scenes, a third platform is rolled to center stage as yet another location-defining tool.
Another nice touch: in a few scenes, the rear end of a car appears stage left. What we found especially impressive, though, was how the scenic designers teamed up with lighting designer Ryann Norris to create the night sky that appears both at the back of the stage and on both sides of the audience, thus creating the illusion that the audience is on location, on the same flat plain as the characters.
Costume designer Rachel McKay has appropriately outfitted all 12 of these actors for a winter’s night in Maine. (The well-organized set-changing crew also seemed to be clad in cold weather attire.)
Props master Nicola Lefler has them all “armed and ready,” with just the right “toys” to get the job done. And we must tip our hats to fight choreographer D. Anthony Pender, along with actors Danny Mullins (as Chad) and Joey DeSena (as Randy), for their impressive work in the scene “They Fell.”
Plus: A major kudo goes to director Randy Jordan for a very important decision. As we stated above, this play is structured as though it were nine separate Ten-Minute Plays. Evenings of multiple short plays are quite entertaining, but they usually have a major weakness: the audience is given no clue — other than the program, which cannot be read in the dark — concerning the title of the individual plays as they unfold. Jordan overcomes this weakness by having the name of each scene projected on the back wall of the set as the action of each play starts.
From the Department of Picky-Picky:
- There are a few scenes in which characters step out-of-doors without the benefit of winter clothing, and they do not appear to feel the cold.
- Chad and Randy reach into a cooler to bring out several cans of beer and then proceed to drink this beer without ever opening the cans.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, we recommend joining the Cary Players at the Cary Arts Center, where you can take a trip to Almost, Maine. This show plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 8-10, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb 11th.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 1st Cary, NC Cary Citizen preview by Michael Papich: http://carycitizen.com/2018/02/01/cary-comedy-highlights-key-romantic-moments/.
The Cary Players present ALMOST, MAINE at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8-10 and 3 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Cary Arts Center, 101 Dry Ave., Cary, North Carolina 27511.
TICKETS: $20 ($18 students and seniors), except $17 per person for groups of 20 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 800-514-3849 or https://www.etix.com/.
GROUP RATES (20+ tickets): Purchase in person at the Cary Downtown Theatre Box Office, 122 E. Chatham St. Cary, NC 27511, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
2018 SEASON: http://caryplayers.org/season/current-season/.
VENUE: http://www.townofcary.org/departments/parks__recreation___cultural_resources/facilities/cultural_arts_centers/caryartscenter.htm, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cary-Arts-Center/235735853122351, and http://www.caryplayers.org/cary-arts-center/.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11th, performance.
Almost, Maine (2004 Portland Stage Company and 2006 Off-Broadway romantic comedy): http://www.almostmaine.com/ (official website), http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=3759 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/4193 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almost,_Maine (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.milwaukeerep.com/education/documents/almostmaine_000.pdf (Milwaukee Repertory Theater).
John Cariani (Brockton, MA-born New York City playwright): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/john-cariani-117724 (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm137121/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Cariani (Wikipedia).
Randy Jordan (Raleigh, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/randy.jordan.7 (Facebook page).