It’s ’Maine’-ly about love
|By Paul Wozniak|
In a mystical, made-up town, magic manifests from metaphor to material in "Almost, Maine." Filmmaker Nancy Meyers ("It’s Complicated," "The Holiday") would have been proud of John Cariani’s script, which is filled with spontaneous smooches and other expressions of affection.
Almost a dozen vignettes with two characters in virtually every scene dramatize "love" in its various states within the somewhat surreal and sappy locale.
The central gimmick/literary device (depending on your perspective) and the premise of each vignette is the literal physical rendering of timeworn clichés and expressions. Love “given” becomes tangible, and the expression "falling in love" is shown as two people falling on the ground "in love." Although the script is no more clever than the Sunday newspaper comic strips, director Joe Dickson manages to turn theater-exercise scenes into a relatively cohesive, enjoyable production.
In the second scene titled “Her Heart,” Glory (Tricia Turek) meets East (Joseph Baumann) in his snow-covered yard. Glory explains that she is carrying her broken heart in a paper bag (literally) and that an artificial heart currently pumping in her chest is incapable of loving. Fortunately, East is a repairman capable of mending her, literally.
And so the scenes continue, with titles such as “Sad and Glad,” “This Hurts” (about a man who cannot feel the pain of a broken heart), “Getting It Back” (as in “all the love that you gave me”) and “Story of Hope,” among several others. Like every "Saturday Night Live" sketch from the last two decades, the punchline is set up within the first 30 seconds of each scene.
Dickson averts potential mediocrity by providing thorough, detailed direction in every scene, mining as much humor in silence and beats as he does through the inflection of repeated words. There is not as much content in the scenes as the actors would have the audience believe, but credit is due to Dickson for making them think otherwise.
Actors Scott Laban and Susie Coleman take the first scene of the show to a new level as young couple Pete and Ginette, stretching silence with purposeful gestures that tell their story before they speak their first lines. Preoccupied with the stars instead of Ginette, Pete proceeds to explain to Ginette in the most nerd-like fashion that they are mathematically distant from each other. Understandably, she leaves the dense fool to contemplate his misunderstanding of her more poetic language. A silly punchline is made to seem universally meaningful by two very natural performers.
Other strong performers in the ensemble include Baumann, Steve Ledyard, Justin Brewer, Angela Dill, and Mike Stewart, each of whom bring physicality and depth to their relatively shallow characters.
The winter set designed by Mark Mandenberg made of a turquoise-spotted floor and plastic white sheets as snow piles is simple but functional and fully utilized by the actors. Lighting design by Tim Fox and Dickson’s own sound design provide texture in subtle ways, appropriately enhancing the syrupy mood.
"Almost" also proves how a good director can utilize the full potential of his actors, creating a sum greater than the parts.