Hip Shot: Almost, Almost Maine
Venue: Goethe Institut- Gallery
Sunday, July 29, 5:15 p.m.
They Say: "Stage vignettes and video interludes showcasing the surprise, joy, growth, disappointment, remorse and finality that LOVE brings. Two players, ten characters."
Sophia's Take: Almost, Almost Maine is Almost, Maine presented almost in its entirety. Seven of the nine vignettes from John Cariani's play make it to the Goethe stage in Manu Kumasi's abbreviated version of this frothy romantic comedy. I've never seen a production of the full- length version. Perhaps it contains scenes that earn the show a place in the Drama section of the Fringe catalogue. Aside from the lightest sprinkling of disappointment and regret, this production is a charming diversion for fans of stories that are just about falling in love.
Almost, Maine took an unusual route to success. When the original incarnation played Off Broadway in the winter of 2006, it bombed. Over the next few years, however, the accessible, child-friendly material and inexpensive production requirements attracted the attention of theaters in the United States and abroad. The play went on to be produced in hundreds of high schools across the country and dozens of regional theatres, and was produced in far off places like Seoul and Dubai. Such uncomplicated needs are well served in the context of Fringe.
Two actors, Christian Beltran and Mandy Nicole Moore, play seven couples as they find or lose—but mostly find—love on one starry night in the fictional rural town of Almost, Maine. They make fast work of transitioning from one scene to the next, often changing a single costume piece onstage. Those who read the blurb about the "video interludes" and assume this show offers some enticing multimedia components might be disappointed. The screen above the stage simply projects starlight and the names of the couple whose story we are about to watch.
The script is very cute and funny. It also contains some of the most literal writing I've ever listened to, television included. When someone is in love, they say that, exactly. When the play's one long-suffering pair fights over a missing shoe and the wife asks, "What are we waiting for?" a shoe flies from off stage. As in, the other shoe drops between them.
What makes the majority of this material work is the chemistry and of the actors and their excellent timing. Beltran lends a handsome, deep-voiced appeal to each of his roles, no matter where on the spectrum of passion, fear, or confusion his character's emotions fall. Moore gives a stand-out performance. She has an obvious versatility and gift for physical comedy. When she steps into the role of a man, the scene is both credible and humorous. The true gift she brings to each part, though, is a kind of effervescent charm that could give Meg Ryan or Jennifer Anniston a run for her money.
The light-hearted qualities that draw some to this production will repel others. At the core of this play's appeal is the relatable content of all rom-coms. The occasional "jeezum crow" bomb notwithstanding, this story could take place anywhere in the world. Admitting to someone that you're in love with them can feel wonderful, awkward, painful, or all of those things at once. Whether you like Almost, Maine will depend on how you respond to entertainment that draws from this eternal wellspring of comedic fodder.
See It If: You're suffering from a dearth of rom-coms at the multiplex.
Skip It If: You prefer a little subtext with your text.