By Larry Laneer
February 18, 2019
Pollard Theatre Company has brought us a popular trifle titled Almost, Maine by John Cariani. The play takes place in the fictional berg of Almost, Maine, and the characters will be familiar to anyone who grew up in a small town anywhere. But the overall effect is as insubstantial as the artificial snow that covers the Pollard Theatre stage.
Almost, Maine isn’t really a play. It’s series of 11 loosely connected scenes about that old dramatic staple, to wit, L-O-V-E. In this cubic zirconia of amour, the author focuses on various facets of the subject: the awkwardness, broken hearts, breakups, chance encounters, reconciliation, travail of dating, falling in love (a little too literally), falling out of love, dashed hopes, and the inconvenience of layering (as in clothes). A few seasons ago this was the most produced play in the country (by any playwright not named Shakespeare). It’s hard to say why. Well, no it isn’t. The play is relatively inexpensive to stage: four actors, minimal scenery, few props, off-the-rack costumes, no musicians.
The playwright hasn’t given director Matthew Alvin Brown a lot of substantial material here. Much of the storyline and dialog are predictable or repetitious, with a couple of notable exceptions. The “Story of Hope” scene has some delicious, wince-inducing dialog. Some things in the play could not happen in real life, usually to comic effect.
Brown has cast four of our top actors in the show: Timothy Stewart, Jared Blount, Kris Schinske Wolfe, and Renee Krapff. They play various characters who run the gamut from goofy to jilted to hopeful. Schinske Wolfe and Krapff are similar actors, both highly professional and accomplished at their work. Their voices range from screeching sirens to smoky contraltos. They play comic and serious roles with equal sharpness. Stewart and Blount are a study in contrast but are natural fits in their roles here. In their only scene together, Stewart’s facial expressions say more than the dialog, to great effect.
The uncredited scenic design consists of side wings of horizontal boards and a few vertical pillars in a greenish color that suggest the land around Almost, which if it really existed would be in far northern Maine. An upstage park bench plays an important role. Brown leaves a prop or two from each scene onstage, so by the end, the stage holds detritus of Almost life. This must be some device to link the scenes into a whole.
The play takes place during a Maine winter, and Michael James’s costumes look like a mix of L.L. Bean and thrift store. W. Jerome Stevenson’s lighting suggests the northern lights in some scenes, and you can see the starry night viewable around a remote outpost like Almost.
Like dry snowflakes on warm terra firma, this wisp of a play evaporates as soon as it hits the ground. Maybe more of that fake snow at the denouement would help.
|Almost, Maine by John Cariani
Polllard Theatre Company
8:00 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, through March 2
2:00 p.m. Sunday, February 24
8:00 p.m. Thursday, February 28
120 W. Harrison Ave., Guthrie