Theatre in the Park is presenting three “plays in repertory,” which in fact is not what that term usually means; but three shows in a row during the month of September are True West by Sam Shepard, which ran Sept. 8-11, Almost, Maine by John Cariani, which is running Sept. 15th through the 18th, and Southern Baptist Sissies by Del Shores’, which goes up Sept. 22nd through the 25th. Almost, Maine has become one of the most frequently performed plays in the country.
It isn’t surprising that this is a popular entertainment, it offers wry humor, outright comedy, pathos, drama, and love — lots of love. Director Carnessa Ottelin has taken on Byron Jennings II, Lorelei Mellon, Page Purgar, and Brian Yandle to tell these nine (or 11) yarns, which lean a little into absurdism but are mostly pretty straight-up quirky fun. One of them — you can guess at which one if you go to the show — was actually banned by parents and a high school here in North Carolina in 2014, but ultimately performed after one brave teacher raised $6,000 on Kickstart to produce it in a non-school-related venue.
Each of the four actors plays multiple parts, adding to a total of 21 roles. Director Carnessa Ottelin keeps the changes quick, the characters completely varied, and the atmosphere appropriate to the theme in each scene. She also avoided the trap of attempting to force “Mainiac, down east” dialects on them, which would have very likely not made the grade. The author’s use of the term “Jeezum Crow” helped locate the stories.
Lorilei Mellon is most memorable in “Story of Hope,” where she displays her extraordinary range. She is perky and lusty as the Waitress in “Sad and Glad,” and she is agile, with perfect comic timing, in “This Hurts.”
Byron Jennings and Brian Yandle are just wonderful as two best friends in “They Fell.” This one will tickle your funny bone.
Jennings is outstanding in “Getting it Back,” very sweet and tender-hearted. Yandle accomplishes the arc of “Sad and Glad,” with a touch of backwoodsy roughness and a sincerity that touches deeply.
Page Purgar is at her best in “Seeing the Thing” with Yandle, and also gives a grand performance opposite Jennings in “Getting it Back.”
Thomas Mauney’s superb set easily revolves to make the setting inside or outside, depending on the vignette. His lighting is creative and moody, just like the wilds of northern Maine. And Elaine Brown has constructed true-to-life warm outfits that reflect the wintriness of the far north.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 16th Raleigh, NC Triangle Review review by Dustin K. Britt, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/09/theatre-in-the-parks-almost-maine-is-a-delightful-production-of-a-dreadful-play/.
Theatre in the Park presents ALMOST, MAINE at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16 and 17 and 3 p.m. Sept. 18 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $24 ($18 students, seniors 60+, and active-duty military personnel), except $16 per ticket for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-831-6058 or http://www.etix.com/ticket/v/2482/ira-david-wood-iii-pullen-park-theatre-theatre-in-the-park.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6058 or http://theatreinthepark.com/whatson/group-sales.
NOTE: All shows are wheelchair/walker accessible, and large-print playbills are usually available.
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 (playwright): http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=117724 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/28307 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm137121/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Cariani (Wikipedia).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.