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Playwright's 'Almost, Maine' gets better with age

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

March 13, 2014

 
WAUKESHA - There are certain plays one can enjoy time after time. “Almost, Maine’ by John Cariani is certainly one of them.

This is Cariani’s first play, and it has already enjoyed more than  2,000 productions throughout the country. It is clever, funny, poignant and appealing to anyone who has ever fallen in love or tried to keep a love relationship alive and well after the initial phase, and that probably includes all of us.

I have seen good productions of this delightful piece at The Milwaukee Repertory Theater, The Boulevard Theatre, the Lake Country Players and now at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha.  

All have done a good job of translating this unique script from page to stage. In some instances, just a few characters played many roles. In this production, 18 actors each took one role. It was gratifying to see such enthusiasm on the part of the students, including several alumni.  

The play is structured into nine vignettes, each about a relationship. Every segment has a title of its own, though each drama takes place in the same small town in the northernmost climes of Maine. The town is called Almost because the inhabitants never got organized enough to incorporate it. Their lives pretty much consist of work, hockey, bowling, ice skating, dancing, hanging out at the local pub, and trying to find love with all its wonder, confusion, ambiguity and heartbreak.  

What is particularly endearing and creative about this piece is that Cariani often concretizes the abstract, and, of course, love is one of those abstractions. He has someone keeping the pieces of her broken heart in her purse, or uses a shoe to represent what is missing in a relationship, or trash bags filled with love that is being returned.  

Every one of the vignettes intrigues us from first to last, but we will all have our favorites depending on our personal experience.  Some are primarily sad, some very funny and some are quite joyful, but all keep us entertained throughout. Each lasts about 10 minutes. We don’t want some of them to end, but we’re always looking forward to the next one. The minimum of props makes transitions easy and swift.  

All the actors rose to the occasion, but several stood out among the rest, including Luke Witte as Pete, Anthony Kolp as Jimmy, Chad Novell as Steve, Daniel Sponder as Randy, Zach Ursem as Chad, Stacy Madson as Marci, Eric Madson as Phil, Sara Sarna as Hope and Sarah Giencke as Rhonda.  

The simple set designed by Steve Decker served as fitting background with its pine trees, its snow, its suggestion of a house or some kind of inside setting. Sandra Renick, with her usual expertise, directed the students toward excellence.  

All in all, “Almost, Maine” is a very pleasant experience. I’ve always been disappointed in the turnout at the lovely Lunt-Fontanne Auditorium at UW-Waukesha. It’s easily accessible and it offers quality productions. It’s a mystery to me.  

“Almost, Maine” is staged at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, 1500 N. University Drive. Tickets are available at the door. For more information, visit www.waukesha.uwc.edu