Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Almost, Maine

The Vortex Theatre
Review by Dean Yannias

Also see Carole's reviews of Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Carol

Jeff Dolecek, Elise Falanga, Owen Reid Callis,
Pete Shelton, Bridget S. Dunne, and Victoria Hughes

Photo by Ryan Dobbs
The astonishing success of Almost, Maine confounds me. Currently being presented by The Vortex Theatre, this piece for theater (calling it a "play" would be a stretch) by John Cariani has had more productions than any other show in North America over the past decade—about 5,000. Granted, most of these have been in high schools, where for at least three out of the last ten years, it has been done more than anything else (runner up, A Midsummer Night's Dream). But it's also incredibly popular with regional theaters companies and has been translated into over a dozen languages. What accounts for this?

I can see some reasons: It is a series of nine scenes, unrelated excepted that they all take place in midwinter in an unincorporated area (an "almost" town) in northeast Maine near Easton on the border with New Brunswick. Any one of these playlets can be excerpted as an acting exercise for two or three actors. Each of the scenes is about love, either the beginning of it or the ending of it—or sometimes both; relationship stories are always of interest. You can cast it with up to nineteen actors, or just four. You need only one set, and a minimal one at that. And it's a crowd-pleaser. Some parts are funny, some parts are touching, and it's almost impossible not to enjoy it overall.

On the other hand, some of the writing is just not that good. Several stretches of dialogue are so phony that I feel sorry for the actors who have to say the lines. The premise of some of the scenes might be fanciful or far-fetched or metaphorical, but at least the people in those scenes should talk like real people talk. I'm going to act like a high school teacher here and grade the writing: "A" for the scene between Hope and Daniel and the snowball scene; "B" for the laundry and falling scenes; "B-" for the missing-shoe and meeting-an-ex-in-the-bar scenes; "C" for the heart-in-a-bag and apres-snowmobiling scenes; and "D" for the "I want all the love I gave you back" scene (which is saved from an "F" only by the last few minutes). Obviously, you have to have seen the show to know what I'm talking about. I'd say, go see it and assign grades yourselves. See if we agree.

Despite my grousing about the writing, Almost, Maine is a great opportunity for actors to show their stuff, and the Vortex production is well worth seeing because the acting is excellent by all involved. Each of the six actors gets several characters to play, and everybody plays them as well as possible. Bridget S. Dunne and Owen Reid Callis are always reliably terrific, and I was very impressed by the other four actors whom we have not seen much of yet in Albuquerque: Jeff Dolecek, Elise Falanga, Victoria Hughes, and Pete Sheldon. I'm looking forward to seeing them in future shows around town.

Leslee Richards, the director, assembled this fine cast and elicits good work from them. She also brought together a wonderful crew. The Maine woods set by Mary Rossman is almost as beautiful as the real woods, the lighting by Steven Blacksmith is entrancing, and the sound design by Casey Mraz is just right. Stage manager Ludwig Puchmayer does a great job, as always.

Propmaster par excellence Nina Dorrance and costumer Rhonda Backinoff complete the picture. I don't know if hockey skates are props or costumes, but in one of those "God is in the details" moments, you might notice that one character is wearing Easton skates. I thought the name "Easton" was plastered on because the character would have played for the Easton High School hockey team, but it turns out that Easton is a brand of skates, and whoever bothered to hunt up those skates—well, I'm in awe.

If you are among the theatergoers who are surfeited on Christmas Carols and Nutcrackers, this is a choice show to see during the holiday season, despite not a single mention of Christmas in the script. It will remind you of the wonder of being out among the trees and looking up at the crystal clear winter night sky. We don't have the northern lights in New Mexico, but we have stars, lots and lots of stars, one for each love story here on earth.

Almost, Maine runs through December 29, 2019, at the Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Tickets $17 to $24. For tickets and information, visit