Contributor Marcus Scott finds warmth in the chilly setting of Almost, Maine.
If you’re looking to escape the Polar Vortex by bathing yourself in the warmth of a downtown Gotham theatre, perhaps you’re out of luck if you sought comfort at the Transport Group Theatre Company’s current production of John Cariani’s Almost, Maine. Upon entering the Gym at Judson, the theater evokes that of a nuclear winter, with synthetic snow caked to the stage floor like frosting.
Comprised of a series of nine two-character vignettes, scenic designer Sandra Goldmark transports you to the wintry remote town of Almost, Maine with a keen eye. Engulfed by mountains, the closest emergency room is 38 miles away, and the only drinking well hangout around is the Moose Paddy Bar. But love is slightly surreal in scope in this backwards town, taking on the tangible as something that can be kept in sacks or transferred into items, and where people literally fall head over heels.
Executed by four actors in multiple roles, all of the characters in varying stages of life and relationships, Almost, Maine questions the accepted psychosis we put ourselves through in the name of love, the interconnectivity we crave and the tick tock of time that beats to all of our internal biological clocks. In this show, love is heaven and love is hell: Jimmy (played by Cariani himself) aches over his ex-girlfriend at her bachelorette party; a young lady returns to the man who proposed to her nearly a decade earlier, only to discover he has married and moved on; a pair of best friends share their romantic war stories before unveiling their latent romantic feelings for each other; and an unhappily married couple on the verge of separation roll up their cuffs and spill their gospel truths.
Perhaps the most poignant moment of the show is the scene “This Hurts.” Steve (played by Cariani), a man who is nigh-invincible to pain, falls in love for the first time after he is kissed. This singular actions makes him susceptible to feelings and awakens his senses. It is heartbeat of the play, taking common phrases like ‘love hurts’ and turning them into messages that ring true for anyone who has had pangs of love.
Remarkable performances are given by an extremely talented cast: Kevin Isola’s whimsical sincerity lights fires with a slow burn; Kelly McAndrew’s veracity from New England debutante to Pine Tree State hick reveal an impressive and moving character actress; and playwright John Cariani’s gritty boy-next-door façade and ticking time bomb crackpot center prove he’s worth his salt as an actor. But the standout is none other than Donna Lynne Champlin, who was recently seen in Terrence McNally’s And Away We Go at Boston’s Pearl Theatre. She evokes a blend of Melissa McCarthy’s assault-and-battery comic chops with Kathy Bates’ tear-soaked gravitas. Her scene with Cariani as two bundled-up, thrill-seeking snowboarders whose version of pillow talk involves stripping out of a never-ending layer cake of clothing, is knee-slapping comic gold.
Jack Cumming’s easily paced and quicksilver direction, which includes multiple entrances from the back of the house, upstage and behind the audience, always propel the action. Crafted with passion, walk into the winter wonderland of Almost, Maine—it may just chill any qualms you have and put them on ice.
Transport Group Theatre Company
The Gym at Judson
243 Thompson St.
Extended through March 2.
Marcus Scott, an MFA graduate of NYU Tisch, is a playwright, musical theater writer and journalist whose work has appeared in Elle, Out, Essence, Uptown, Trace, Giant, Hello Beautiful and Edge Media Network.