Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Also see Patrick's review of Water by the Spoonful
This collection of loosely linked playlets are all set in a town that's not quite a town because, in the words of one character, "to be a town, you gotta get organized, and we just never got organized." Many of the characters also have trouble getting their lives together, andespeciallyfiguring out how to connect with their fellow humans. In the very first scene, Pete (Skylar Evans) and Ginette (Allie Nordby) sit together on a bench in front of a backdrop of a three-dimensional snowbank (nicely realized by set designer Andrew Patton) and a starry sky silhouetted by pine trees. They snuggle up next to each other, and Ginette says "I like this kind of closeright next to you." Pete, however, thinks they might be as far away from each other as possible, and makes a snowball to illustrate how if she walks away from him, she will actually be getting closer in a sort of global sense.
Each of the vignettes plays with reality, setting up odd circumstancesbut ones which the characters deal with in a very straightforward manner. At the local bar, The Moose Paddy, the special on this night is free drinksif you're sad. When a woman tells a man that what she's holding in a paper sack are the pieces of her heart, he isn't shocked. Instead, in true Maine, capable-guy fashion, he offers to see if he can fix it for her.
This kind of odd "logic" pervades Almost, Maine and is part of what gives it its charm. In another scene, Gayle (a wonderfully droll Molly Larsen-Shine) storms into her boyfriend's apartment to return "all the love" he'd given herand demands, since he clearly isn't going to propose, that he give back all the love she gave him. How that love is represented gets one of the biggest laughsand is one of the sweetest momentsof the evening. Another lovely moment happens when two characters realize they are falling in love. Literally.
The play may be one or two vignettes too long (there are 11), but that's the fault of playwright John Cariani and not director Anderson Templeton, who keeps the action moving along briskly. His cast members deliver their dialogue energetically. Though they often interrupt each other and deliver half sentences, it never gets confusing. Despite the energetic pace, Templeton also intersperses several quiet moments that reinforce the hesitancy the residents of Almost, Maine, have when trying to connect with each other.
The cast are nearly as charming as the play itself. Molly Larsen-Shine has an expressive face, with eyes that flash between anger and delight, confusion and contentment. Her comic timing is spot on, and she displays a wonderful physicality, especially in her scene with Brandon Wilson, "Seeing the Thing." Wilson has a similar engaging nature, which he brings to every vignette in which he appears. In fact, I found every member of the cast (including Evans, Nordby, Serena Elize Flores, and John Browning) to be charming, funny, and beautifully in tune with their scene partners.
Almost, Maine doesn't try to be anything more than what it is: an airy confection of sweet, often funny stories about the struggles human beings have connecting with each other. And couldn't we all use some reminding about the importance of love and connection right about now?
Almost, Maine runs through April 10, 2022, in the Condiotti Studio Theater at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park CA. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. with matinees at 2:00 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $12-$26 and are available by calling the box office at 707-588-3400. Box office hours are 12-5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Additional information is available at www.spreckelsonline.com.