At the Moose Paddy Bar, if you are sad, drinks are free.
In a scene from the Durango High School production of “Almost, Maine,” a cheerful waitress (wonderfully played by Rachel Rodri) repeats the Friday-night special to a down-and-out customer (the believably bewildered Luke Fowler). He has just learned his ex-girlfriend (a winning Abigail Jackson) will be married the next day.
When you hear the Moose Paddy special, you know you’re in the land of magical realism.
The three Durango High School actors who appear in “Sad and Glad” are part of a fine production about ordinary people who fall in and out of love in a mythical American town. Written by actor/playwright John Cariani, “Almost, Maine” unfolds in nine vignettes. The stories are told with unexpected warmth but without sentimentality. Each scene also has a touch of absurdity, so be prepared for stunning surprises and fresh insights.
Directed by Kristin Winchester, with a beautifully realized set created by Walker White and his student team, “Almost, Maine” completes a year of challenging and successful productions.
Cariani’s play takes place in winter when spectacular visions of the aurora borealis accompany and enhance otherwise ordinary human events. It starts simply with a prologue about a couple on the brink of declared love. Liam Hahn and Chelsea Harris play Pete and Ginette, young sweethearts who express their feelings directly and set the play in motion. They reappear two more times, providing a through line and frame for the entire work.
With writing that combines realism, humor, affection and absurdity, the playwright illuminates new, old and lost love, chance meetings – even friendship. Not all scenes have a happy ending, but each explores the dance of human intimacy and disconnection.
The most realistic, “Where it Went,” (Fowler and Jackson again) dramatizes the dissolution of a marriage. “Getting it Back” may be the most imaginative as Gayle (the marvelously volatile Sarah Barney) explodes on Lendall (the taciturn Joseph Logan). Angry, she returns all the love he gave her in an unexpected way.
“This Hurts,” takes place in a laundry room and appears to be an ordinary encounter between strangers. Marvalyn (played with quizzical intensity by Elise Christianson) accidentally hits Steve (the bright but preoccupied Kevin Brinkley). Their odd connection becomes an elaborate feint and parry with an extended metaphor.
Christianson appears again as the tough but vulnerable Rhonda who is wooed by Dave (the charming and persistent Evatt Salinger). They have just completed a 20-mile snowmobile run and may or may not connect romantically. They happen to mention the other characters who live in Almost, Maine, wrapping up the multi-scened play with a strong sense of community.
The aurora borealis plays a continuing role throughout. And at the end, everything comes together in a spectacular light and sound show with evocative, bittersweet music.
From stage manager Katelyn Craig through the student designers, costumers, the lights and sound crews and the actors, the production achieves a splendid creative wholeness.
“Almost, Maine” originally opened in 2005 in Portland, Maine. It played off Broadway in 2006, and it has been staged by college and community theaters since. Fort Lewis College mounted a spare and more abstract production in 2010.
The Durango High School Thespian Troupe 1096 presents a more elaborate production that is absolutely worth seeing.
email@example.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic.