"Almost, Maine" at 6th Street Playhouse Studio Theatre, Santa Rosa CA

“Almost, Maine” by John Cariani
6th Street Playhouse Studio Theater, Santa Rosa CA

Photo by Eric Chazankin:
(Back, from left) Clint Campbell, Nikki Lyon
(Front, from left) Peter Warden, Autumn Mirassou

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

Totally Almost

It’s nine o’clock on a winter’s night in a little town called Almost, with the Northern Lights dancing overhead and romance brewing below. Presented in a series of nine short stories, “Almost, Maine” treads a path that borders the magical. The figurative becomes literal, the impossible becomes real. Broken hearts are carried in paper bags, bushels of love are kept in huge red satin pillowcases, and lovers literally “fall” for each other. The stories are told with playful metaphors, and many of them are profoundly moving, bright little gems.

Lovingly crafted by American actor and playwright John Cariani, each “mini-play” features a unique romantic situation that may, or may not, offer the characters a chance at happiness. Crisp, vigorous dialogue counterbalances odd circumstance, making for a delightful experience. “Almost, Maine” broke box office records when it premiered in Portland, Maine in 2004, and has gone on to be one of the most successful regional theatre productions in the U.S. Amazingly enough, when it appeared off-Broadway in 2006 it only ran a month, and was declared a flop by those big-city folks. What do they know?

Director John Shillington beautifully integrates the projected images, music and the actors’ movements onstage. One of his original songs with composer Robin Eschner is featured, sung by the two leading ladies who possess lovely voices. Projection screens flank the set and efficiently provide supplemental images to each scene: pastoral, utilitarian, comic or poetic, whatever is required.

The four actors (Clint Campbell, Nikki Lyon, Autumn Mirassou and Peter Warden) do a consistently fine job playing multiple characters, but there are some scenes where each, in their turn, shines with a special brilliance. Perhaps there could be more varied characterizations and risk-taking in a few scenes, but the performances are wonderful exactly as they are. Outstanding stories to look for include “Getting it Back”, “They Fell”, “Story of Hope” and “Seeing the Thing”, where each actor pushes boundaries and holds the audience in thrall. They say theatre is the actor’s medium, and in “Almost, Maine”, this theory is on full, spectacular display.

Judging by the audience reaction - knowing smiles, chuckles, belly laughs, and a raucous standing ovation at play’s end – there’s no “almost” about it. “Almost, Maine” is most definitely a warm-hearted treat for a frosty night, and well worth seeing.

When: Now through December 18, 2011
8:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:00 p.m. Sundays
8:00 p.m. Thursday December 15; 2:00 p.m. Saturday December 17
Tickets: $10 to $25 (general seating)
Location: Studio Theatre at 6th Street Playhouse
52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa CA
Phone: 707-523-4185
Website: www.6thstreetplayhouse.com

Coming up at the Studio Theatre: “The 39 Steps”, a spoof on Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film; January 6 – 22, 2012

Coming up at the GK Hardt Theatre: “The Drowsy Chaperone”, a nostalgic musical comedy; January 13 – February 12, 2012