If somehow in your prep for Mid-Winter Ball you had forgotten the road to love is lined with awkward giddiness, miscommunications and lonesome cold skies, last week’s ETB production of “Almost, Maine” would have served as an apt reminder.
Directed by Holly Abel ‘13, the show consisted of nearly a dozen vignettes of couples and would-be couples searching for something special one weekend night in the titular locale – a small, snowy, Scandinavian-like “town” that may as well have been Northfield.
Abel, working with a short turnaround after putting together Eurydice ninth week last term, had her large and talented cast in great form, which was essential to a play that demanded its actors develop memorable characters despite each one appearing on stage for only a few brief minutes. Watching Sam Braslow ‘15 as the Almost-ite Chad shoot the bull with Andrew Harvey’s ‘15 character Randy was particularly tender.
Harvey also shined later as Dave, a blue collar worker taking Adult-Education painting classes at the local high school to try to win the heart of Rhonda, played charmingly by Ellen McKinstry ‘14, whose quip “it’s winterized!” I hope catches on.
Gavin Allman’s ‘16 soft-spoken, dream-faced appearances got the audience’s pathos flowing generously, and Connor Lane ‘13, as usual, was a delight to watch. Especially when he glared open-mouthed as a zany New-Ager named Glory, played by Lily Gage ‘15, showed up on his lawn to watch the Northern Lights.
Katie Shaffer ‘15 acted with great timing in both of her roles, one of which afforded her the opportunity to accidentally whack Braslow with a laundry board.
Taken together, the group made great work of a John Cariani script that on the whole was pretty mediocre. The sense of weight and desperation that led Gage’s character at the beginning to insist on being in this town on this night dissipated over the course of the play as the gags, clichés, and heavy-handed symbolism mounted.
The Lenny Dee/Ebony-style pop-tunes transitions between the vignettes also detracted from the provincialism the play ought to have aimed for, and the XKCD-esque park-bench conversation scene woven throughout the play (in which girlfriend Ginette walks around the world to get closer to her boyfriend) might have struck you as poetic or cheesy, depending on your mood.
That said Abel made some smart decisions to tone down Cariani’s original script, which was anything but subtle. And there was enough in the production we recognized of our own passions that we might have learned something.
Mary Buswell ‘15 played well both sides of asymmetrical relationships, and in each of their two appearances Hannah Neville ‘14 and Will Gray ‘14 exposited thoughtfully the Janus face of sorrow and resolve in the aftermath of extinguished loves.
The terrific acting kept the overflowing audience engaged and in laughter (especially after lines like “it’s a lot bigger than it looks” and “I thought it’d be hard, but it’s not”). Afterwards friends, fans, and flowers swarmed the well-deserving director, cast and crew in what was an entertaining kick-off to Carleton’s winter theater season.