This review of Almost, Maine first appeared in Offbeat News, our bi-monthly newsletter.
The damp and cloudy weather seemed appropriate on my journey to Almost, Maine at The Company of Players' Little Theatre. Written by John Cariani and set in mid-winter, Almost, Maine is a series of loosely intertwined scenes about love and loss that take place over one night in a fictional Maine town.
The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, can sometimes but not always be seen in this remote and very cold place. But on this night at 8.50pm the Northern Lights are shining brightly and a series of nine vignettes highlight the simultaneous ups and downs of couples who are all in the throes of love.
Julia Arundale, Helen Budd, Mark James and Patrick Sunners multi-roled the 18 ordinary rural Americans brilliantly, each allowing the words of the script to be spoken believably and engagingly. It was also in moments of no speech,through a simple glance or a thought expressed facially, that the loudest laugh was implored from the audience. There are no dramatic changes of accent or gait so the onus was on the performers to alter the attitude of their character from scene to scene, which they all did seamlessly.
Helen Budd added plenty of zest to her performances; I loved her performance as Glory, the recent widow who intends to say goodbye to her late husband by watching the Northern Lights. She believes the recent departed souls travel with them to their rest and has travelled to the little town for the optimum viewing experience. Her sincerity was absolute and very touching. She showed great skill in balancing the naivety of an out-of-towner and the feistiness of someone who knows her own mind.
The director, Claudia McKelvey, was able to draw out the genuine hope or sadness of each character without allowing the actors to fall into stereotypes. This made the sweet and bittersweet stories relatable for the audience whose laughter, at times, came from deep in the belly.
The stage set was minimal and effective with a simple bench and the remnants of snow turned to ice. Projections of stars and the Northern Lights were superbly designed by Andy Pierce and Andy Lee and helped frame the emotionally charged ten minutes of each respective scene. Equally, the original music by Tony Mason helped create a thoughtful atmosphere during transitions between each episode. Costumes by Shelagh Maughan were spot on and certainly helped to establish a sense of the cold felt in the mid-winter in North America. The puffer jackets, woolly hats and layers of clothes must have been hot for the four actors who managed to pull off feeling cold even under the bright lights!
The Company of Players’ production of Almost, Maine, under the expert guidance of McKelvey, was a delightfully textured, funny, and heartfelt exploration of love with all the humour, sadness, madness and magic that relationships bring. There was nothing 'almost' about it.
Reviewed by Vicki Baldwin, Head of Drama, Richard Hale, and former director & choreographer for National Youth Music Theatre