It’s Friday night, the middle of winter, and the northern lights dance in the sky above Almost, a fictional town in Maine’s unorganized northern territory.
All across the small town, at exactly the same time, people find themselves falling — sometimes quite literally — in and out of love in odd and curious ways.
A woman appears in a stranger’s front yard, clutching a paper bag she says contains the broken shards of her heart. A couple fights on their anniversary until a shoe falls out of the sky. A woman shows up on her boyfriend’s doorstep with five or six laundry bags full of love to return to him, demanding that he return her love, as well.
In John Cariani’s “Almost, Maine,” love is the unorganized territory and characters weave in and out of various states of almost. Unfortunately, so does the play. It’s almost a romance, almost a comedy, almost a drama, almost sci-fi and, at times, almost magical.
With a script that takes such figurative phrases as “falling in love” and “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” and makes them literal, relying on weak punch lines and physical humor in lieu of character or metaphor development, the play manages to depict many different types of love without saying much about love, after all.
It is composed of nine vignettes, each originally written as stand-alone audition pieces. With only thin, superficial threads connecting the different stories, “Almost, Maine” feels like just that — a series of audition pieces strung together, lacking sufficient cohesion despite shared themes and motifs. Then again, maybe that’s the point. As the play’s website, almostmaine.com, puts it: “There’s a play here. Almost.”
Under Tom Width’s thoughtful direction, Swift Creek Mill Theatre’s production capitalizes on the humor of these stories with inspired acting that demonstrates the range of the young cast. Mariea Terrell’s facial expressions alone elicit some knee-slapping belly laughter from the audience. There’s another memorable scene in which a new couple, portrayed by Terrell and Lucian Restivo, strip each other’s clothes off with great enthusiasm, piece-by-piece, layer-by-layer, all the way down to matching red long underwear.
At moments, Matt Hackman achieves a dramatic intensity that nearly sweeps an otherwise shallow scene into deeper, more serious territory. But these moments never have the chance to take hold, as the script seems, always, to call for some gimmick-based joke or gag to button a scene. The material is limiting, but the actors manage to push those boundaries, occasionally stretching a scene to its dramatic potential.
Width’s set design is smart and effective, and the lighting, designed by Joe Doran, does much to create the illusion of a cold, winter’s night, including an aurora borealis I can pretend is the real thing.
“Almost, Maine” delivers an evening of light fun, and it’s a great chance to see some young Richmond actors flexing their muscles, but the script itself keeps the production from moving beyond variety-show-style comedy. S