Pacific Theatre, until December 16th
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Liz Gloucester
Pacific Theatre is stirring up a steaming cup of delight for audiences this December. Filled with sincerity, feeling and charm ‘Almost Maine’ delivers what we expect from the coming season. We hear nine stories and witness nine different encounters between different couples all twirling about on the candy-caned carousel of lurrrrrrve.
Lauchlin Johnston and Jenny Jantsch are responsible for the beautiful stage picture. Bedecked in white from floor to ceiling and accompanied by all-white props it echoes the weather outside as well as extending the metaphor of the unknown, of the blank canvas, ready to be daubed with colourful feelings. Everyday objects- surely mementos of love affairs hang suspended from the ceiling like snowflakes, primed to flurry down onto an unsuspecting head.
John Cariani’s writing is true and appealing, seemingly ordinary interactions we can all relate to. But then he injects a dash of magic. The same electric sensation we humans all experience when we come face to face with someone we could love, have loved, will love. One character, having lost her boot after skating, wishes upon a shooting star = the boot falls from the heavens; Another carries pieces of her shattered heart around in a paper bag; We see an individual attempt to give back all the love her partner had given to her, physically dragging multiple suitcases full of love into the playing space; Abandoned by his love, a once tall and ‘fighting man’ physically shrinks in response to his loss of hope.; A misspelled tattoo finds its wearer’s destiny in the local bar. These incidents of fantasy raise the already accomplished piece to fairy-tale height.
The acting throughout the play is superb. While none of the characters cross over into each other’s stories we do hear mention of them in passing as well as local landmarks weaving together the different elements to present us with the tapestry of the little town. There are no dramatic changes of costume, accent or gait so the onus is on the performers to alter the attitude of their character from scene to scene; a challenge they meet with gusto.
Kim Larson added plenty of zest to her performances. I loved her performance as Glory; the recent widower 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.
Do not for a second believe you are in for an easy ride in your one-horse open sleigh. A few of the encounters do not end as joyfully, some are open ended, and at least one will make you blub. This play isn’t about Christmas at all. But the sentiment, coupled with the cosy snowsuits, scarves, bobble hats and winter booties gloriously assembled by Amy McDougall adds up to Christmas in my eyes; Joy, laughter, wonder, and the occasional disappointment. A display of ‘love [that is] all lovely’[i], sweet but not saccharine. Just the right amount to not make you sick. Props to Kaitlin Williams for this enchanting directorial debut.
[i] Christina Rossetti, ‘Love came down at Christmas’
By Kelly Moncton
Having only seen the promotional image of a cozy couple hugging in the snow, I was expecting Almost, Maine to be an ultra-sweet holiday story. I was pleasantly surprised by the mix of relationships that John Cariani chose to represent in his play, (which doesn’t mention any holidays, by the way). We see love stories that are ending in anger and sadness, as well as charming beginnings of relationships, or hints of love stories to come. All of the contrasting short scenes that make up the evening are set during winter in the same tiny town in Maine, and share a sense of magic and humour. I particularly appreciated how Cariani finds ways to inject absurd moments in story to show the truth of a relationship. One character starts her scene by returning all of the love she was given in giant suitcases, which seems an insane way to talk about a break-up, but also becomes very appropriate in the situation.
The ensemble transformed in a heartbeat into different characters, and I overheard another audience member mention at the intermission that they had trouble keeping track of who was who. Jalen Saip was charming as a waitress with free drinks for sad people, and Baraka Rahmani communicated quite a bit with a nervous hair tossing habit in one of her scenes. Giovanni Mocibob made heartbreak and physical comedy all look easy, and Peter Carlone had great a way of finding humour in pathetic moments. Kim Larson turned from wide-eyed charm to bitter anger without losing the heart of her characters. Every character in Almost, Maine felt invested, specific, and interesting.
One of the scenes from this 2004 play felt a little out-of-date. It centred on a same-sex couple, and moments that wouldn’t have been funny in a heterosexual pairing made the audience laugh. To be fair, this might be more of a reflection of the audience’s attitudes and comfort level with homosexual relationships, rather than the production itself. It’s hard to say.
Every moment looked simple and beautiful in Almost Maine. The white-painted set pieces and props were interesting and evocative without distracting us, and the variety of winter clothes also told us about the people inside them without being showy.
It might be the multiple storylines about love, the date it was written, or the winter setting, but I was reminded more than once of the movie Love Actually. Almost, Maine also gives you moments of heartbreak and hope, without the British accents. I thoroughly enjoyed both the movie and this play, and would recommend them to you if you need help getting through the bustle and hurry of December.