If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
It’s “Almost, Maine” at Westport’s MTC
One of the most produced contemporary plays in the country today, John Cariani’s whimsical “Almost, Maine” is currently on stage at Westport’s Music Theatre of Connecticut. MTC’s intimate setting isn’t ideal for every play or musical (though the company scored big time recently with a production of “Cabaret”), but Cariani’s four character, minimal set romance fits snugly within the confines of the theatre’s postage stamp-size stage.
Comprised of a series of short vignettes over two acts, the actors portray a variety of characters who are in some way affected, afflicted or conflicted by love. Set in a small town in northern Maine that “doesn’t quite exist”, the action of the play takes place in the present where, we are told early on, the aurora borealis is set to occur. This magical moment in time seems to affect its residents who are either falling in or out of love. The vignettes possess a quirky sensibility and Cariani’s writing can be deceptively cutesy at times. It takes a delicate approach to mine the humanity and wry humor from these engaging and funny romantic fables.
At MTC, director Kevin Connors has more often than not taken a heavy-handed approach to the material allowing his cast to bellow and mug. Given the theatre’s intimate surroundings, a play like “Almost, Maine” should flourish and embrace its audience instead of intimidating them with overly broad performances. Too often here the material becomes coy or obvious in the playing. A gentler touch and more subtlety would help.
The cast is not without talent, however. The overlapping dialogue is well spoken by all and both women, Cynthia Hannah and Katie Sparer, have several good scenes. Ms. Sparer is seen to wonderful advantage as a boisterous snowmobiler who is a tad too much competition for her lovesick male friend. And Ms. Hannah has some lovely, quiet moments as a woman searching for a lost love. As their male counterparts, Tim Reilly and Jim Schilling tend to overact and condescend to their characters. Nowhere is this more in evidence than when the duo plays a couple of good old boys who, literally, keep falling for each other.
Joshua Scherr’s lighting does what it can given MTC’s limited resources especially when trying to suggest the aurora borealis. Scott Holdredge fares better with his effective scenic design -- a backdrop of rough-hewn wood, a patch of snow and some nice projections for scene changes. The simple costuming by Diane Vanderkroef is handled well by the cast who are in and out of clothes in record time over the course of two hours.
“Almost, Maine” continues at the Music Theatre of Connecticut in Westport through February 19. For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 203.454.3883 or visit: www.musictheatreofct.com.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.