Almost Maine – Theatre and Performance

May 22, 2017 Music

Almost, Maine by John Cariani presents a whimsical approach to the delights and risks of romance centered on the lives of about twenty characters. The play takes place in the fictional town of Almost, Maine and is composed of two-character vignettes, each telling a different story. Although the scenes are unrelated, they all take place on the same night, at the same time, under the same sky. The theatre department at the College of Charleston did a fantastic job with their presentation of Almost, Maine. Using the playwright??™s notes, the actors and directors pay close attention to the acting, set design, and light design to bring this production to life.
Cariani gives specific instructions to both the directors and the actors of his play. He focuses on making the individual characters realistic and natural. In his ???Notes for Actors??? he stresses the importance of the beats in the script, saying, ???…Make sure they are full and electric. This play must never feel slow. There??™s a buoyancy to the material…Find where the words don??™t come so easy – where the quiet moments are??? (75). Throughout the production, the actors consistently follow Cariani??™s advice. Specifically in the prologue, one of the most crucial and powerful scenes, David Beckett and Meg Fannin-Buckner (Pete and Ginette) perform almost all of their scene in the pauses they take. In these pauses, their confusion, angst, and love appears, and the tone is set as Ginette begins her walk around the world. This pause, in fact, is not resolved until the end of the play. Along with these moments, Cariani challenges his actors to ???…tell the stories. Don??™t worry too much about being a chameleon. Don??™t create caricatures. Allow the characters to come to life??? (77). In the scenes ???Where It Went,??? ???They Fell,??? and ???Seeing the Thing??? the actors put these notes into action. Here the characters become three-dimensional. Whether there is sadness, emptiness, or complete joy and humor, each moment is dissected and made into a convincing and realistic explanation of normal, everyday people falling in and out of love. The realness of each character is not only seen through the actors but also through the impressive set design.
Although the set is simplistic, the actors understand their surroundings and act appropriately throughout the show. All of their actions have a purpose and are clearly thought out. They even interact with the set pieces in between scenes, adding to the visual affect of the production. Cariani states ???…the transitions between scenes will be crucial. They??™ll serve as necessary little rest periods – but rest periods during which the audience must not be allowed to disengage! So…be creative with them. Enjoy them. But do so efficiently. Keep them as short as possible??? (70). The scene changes are not awkward lengthy pauses; instead, they are an opportunity for the actors to remain in character and briefly weave their stories together. These moments keep the audience engaged always, even during intermission. Cariani also pays close attention to the uncluttered setting that mirrors the lives of the people of Almost. The directors carefully listen to Cariani??™s notes and create a visual background that is simple, beautiful, and pragmatic. During each scene, there is a minimal set and very few props, but the scene is not focused on lavish design. Instead, Cariani believes the stories of each character are strong enough to stand alone, and because the directors listen, the stories do just that. The set is practical. If Jimmy is in a bar, there is a bar stool. If it is freezing outside, there is a snowy hill. The set gives the actors a background but does not take away from the characters and the stories they tell. The colors of the set are mostly white and a bit of blue, to illustrate the frigid, snowy atmosphere. Cariani suggests the set be used to emphasize the ???long, cold, and snowy winters in Almost, Maine,??? but also to draw attention to the beautiful night sky and the northern lights.
The northern lights are visually the most magical aspect of the play. They not only serve an aesthetic purpose, but they reinforce the plot, tying each story together under the same night sky. The lights can be seen as a metaphor for the love each character feels or loses. Cariani states, ???The northern lights occur when atoms become ???excited.??™ When the aurora fades, it??™s because the affected atoms have returned to their grounded state. Almost, Maine is a play about people who are normally very grounded, but who have become very excited by love…and other extraordinary occurrences??? (6). The lights serve not only to provide beauty and awe in the audience??™s mind, but also to show the emotions of each character. Although these characters share similar emotions, each scene is entirely separate, making the transitions a bit difficult. Cariani suggests, ???I thought it might be better to revisit the northern lights in the transitions between each scene of the play. These ???revisitings??™ will be denoted as ???transitional auroras??™ in the script and will be suggested throughout. They might help audiences understand that each scene of Almost, Maine is taking place at the same time, and that this play is all about one moment in time – what happens to people in a heartbeat??? (6). The directors and lighting designer follow these instructions closely and successfully created a magical, emotional northern lights display with beautiful colors such as green, red, yellow, white, and blue. Just as the emotions of the characters are at their climax, the northern lights illuminate the sky and music is heard in the distance. From the use of the northern lights, the audience visually sees the excited emotions of the actors and feels a sense of magic. As the lights fade, there is a moment of change, and the set slowly transforms as a new scene takes place smoothly and naturally.
Out of all the plays I have seen at College of Charleston, this is one of my favorites. It is rare to see actors portraying real people so simply and convincingly. The plot is neither complex nor twisted in any way. It tells a story and leaves the rest in the actor??™s hands. The talent at the College of Charleston is quite impressive. Not only are some of the characters double cast, but the range of comedic and serious moments are striking. The show is rehearsed and polished, leaving very few weak or unclear moments. Because of the changing set, beautiful northern lights, and exceptional acting, the audience laughs and sighs – fully engaged throughout the duration of the production. Almost, Maine is so magical and enticing it seems like a real place, opening the audience??™s eyes and encouraging them to fall in love with love itself.

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