“Almost, Maine” at the Gym at Judson (Closed Sunday March 2, 2014)

February 5, 2014 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Written by John Cariani
Directed by Jack Cummings III
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“when by now and tree by leaf/ she laughed his joy she cried his grief/ bird by snow and stir by still/anyone’s any was all to her” – E. E. Cummings

Ginette (Kelly McAndrew) and Pete (John Cariani) provide the dramatic context for Mr. Cariani’s “Almost, Maine” currently running at the Gym at Judson and already extended one week even before its opening date. These two complex characters and their equally sophisticated conflicts drive an intricate plot about the complexities of human relationships. Their search for intimacy in the midst of ennui and profound loneliness counterpoints the same quest in the lives of eight other couples who venture out on the same snowy Friday night in the uncharted terrain of Almost, Maine.

Sitting as far away from Pete as possible and looking more at Pete looking at the heavens than looking directly at Pete, Ginette – after a prolonged and delicious silence – confesses her love for Pete. Flummoxed and a bit defensive, Pete agrees to admit his love for Ginette but dodges real connection by reminding her, as she defines the move toward him on the bench as closeness, they are actually farther apart than ever.

Heartbroken, Ginette leaves and seamlessly the action focuses on Glory (Donna Lynne Champlin) who is carrying her own broken heart in a paper bag and has come to Almost to ask her dead husband for forgiveness as his spirit drifts heavenward on the waves of the Northern Lights. She camps in East’s (Kevin Isola) backyard and the two begin a captivating dance toward intimacy in a brilliant dialog that captures the vicissitudes of human bonding.

“Almost, Maine” is all about the arduous journey toward meaning in relationships as a variety of couples attempt to understand what it means to bond, to belong, to care, to pay attention, to draw close, to see clearly, to embrace pain, to understand loss, and to literally fall in love. The four actors, including the playwright, manage to portray an impressive twenty-one characters giving each a unique personality and a believable personal story. One of the most engaging stories is the heartwarming and comedic account of Chad (Kevin Isola) and Randy (John Cariani) literally falling down in love with one another. Indeed, the small population of Almost, Maine happens to know an awful amount about love.

Mr. Cariani’s script is a fascinating journey recounting how seemingly simple folk enjoy life and the beauty of finding and being in love and face the despair and sadness of losing and falling out of love. As each inhabitant’s story is told, the audience learns just how fragile the heart is and is able to connect emotionally on the human level with the knowledge that at some time they have felt the same. When the night is over the audience does not want to leave this place, these people or the feelings they stir up and the audience understands that whether it be glad or sad, euphoric or painful, there is the ultimate need to discover one’s self, someone else, and to fall in love with both. Fortunately “Almost, Maine” is an intriguing place for it to happen.

John Cariani’s “Almost, Maine” works as well as it does because it takes the time to ask the kinds of enduring questions that engage audiences in profound and substantive ways. This particular production works because of the commitment of the cast and director to make Almost, Maine the locus of Almost, Anywhere where “anyone [lives] in a pretty how town (with up so floating many bells down”) – E. E. Cummings.