When Jimmy meets Sandrine accidentally in a bar, conversation sputters. When East stumbles onto Glory in his backyard, two separate lives become intertwined. When Marci and Phil go skating, a marriage unravels or does it?
These are only three of 11 vignettes in the romantic fable Almost Maine.
At dress rehearsal Wednesday night, the Fort Lewis College Department of Theatre clearly was performance ready. Co-directed by Ginny Davis and Eli Halterman, a winning faculty-student team, the production has tonal unity throughout. Quirky and contemporary in its view of modern relationships, the play mixes light and dark comedic elements with a touch of the absurd.
Written by actor/playwright John Cariani, this collection of short scenes is about ordinary people in the fictional town of Almost, Maine. Born in that frigid state, Cariani graduated from Amherst College, began a dual career in acting and writing, and now lives in New York City. In 2004, this early play became the Portland Stage Companys longest running production. It opened Off-Broadway in 2006 and is now mounted all over the country by college and regional theaters. No wonder, the dialogue is smart and the situations believable if you stretch just a tad. Surprises turn up at the oddest moments. Some relationships find unexpected new beginnings; others have odd endings. Its tempting to give away at least one imaginative bit: literally falling down when you fall in love. But viewers deserve the pleasure of Carianis many unexpected jolts, out-of-the-blue word play, strange phrasing or magical new uses of ordinary props.
Cariani wrote the work for a minimum of four actors or an ensemble of up to 19. Davis and Hartman decided on a cast of 10, with everyone performing two roles. Theres a very nice frame device involving one pair, Pete (Ethan Hobson) and Ginette (Dakotah Watson) that functions as a prologue, reappears just before intermission, and closes the show. Characters who have appeared may be referenced later to give a small-town feel to the work. Some vignettes are less than a minute; others extend like little one-act dramas. One of the most compelling, Story of Hope, unfolds gradually, one revelation at a time, to elegantly tell of story of regret.
Set Designer Greg Mitchell has created a beautiful winter-night atmosphere with simple means: the curve of a frozen lake with only three white logs on stage. Above, hes created a changeable sky with a heavy, translucent plastic curtain and its low painted silhouette of an evergreen forest. Bare white branches bramble the walls, and only toward the end do winter house lights suddenly illuminate an exterior doorway for the Story of Hope mentioned above.
Lighting Designer Scott Neel works in tandem with the set to create varying moods and easy scene changes. Sound Designer Brandon Engle adds to the overall subtlety of the production by not piercing the fabric of the work but keeping sound cues within the texture.
Costume Supervisor Jane Gould worked with a number of students to create a realistic wardrobe for a Maine winter. Look closely, however, and admire the white-on-gray motif with a red thread that appears and reappears with subtle elegance.
The Davis-Halterman directing team maintains a realistic tone that makes the fantastic elements seem quite natural. This isnt easy. A theatrical fable like this could have gone over the top if the directors had not had a clear concept from the beginning. This is a jewel of a production.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.