By Martin F. Kohn
CCX_1919.jpg: “Almost, Maine” continues through May 21. Photo: Michigan Actors Studio
Almost, Maine isn’t on any map, not even in “Almost, Maine,” John Cariani’s bouquet of nine playlets about nine couples, where romances bloom (or don’t) and the whimsy flows like the blueberry syrup they serve at every breakfast joint from Kittery to Millinocket.
Nope, Almost is just the name locals have bestowed on their little unincorporated – “unorganized” is the word they use – piece of the world, 163 miles from Bangor and a couple hundred miles from the nearest ocean.
Unorganized also happens to be the way Cariani’s characters feel when love strikes, or departs, or surprises; a sudden, unexpected kiss figures in three of the playlets, to the great discombobulation of both kisser and kissee.
This is not the only device of which the playwright appears overly fond. He also enjoys making figures of speech incarnate. One character falls, literally falls, in love. Another decides which direction her marriage will take when the other shoe drops. Literally drops. From the sky. A third carries the pieces of her broken heart in a bag. Love hits another like – well, a ton of bricks would kill him so an errant ironing board does the smacking.
This may all seem like too much, but directors Rich Goteri and Rachel Bellack’s staging at Michigan Actors Studio is heavy on subtlety, if such a thing is possible. Once the play is over there’s plenty of time to ponder the playwright’s excesses; while it’s taking place, the audience is very much in the moment, or moments.
Cariani helps his own cause by providing an assortment of characters, some eccentric, others less so, in a variety of situations. A ditzy tourist (Crystal Brock) astounds a staid local (Ken Alter) by setting up camp in his yard; he comes up with a surprise of his own. A couple of snowmobilers (KT Bennett and Michael Gillespie) discover their longtime friendship progressing to another stage. Two buddies (Gillespie again and Philip Hughes) swap bad-date stories and come to a startling realization.
Michigan Actors Studio is a private acting school in Ferndale but pays its students to perform in productions like this, therefore becoming eligible to be reviewed (by our standards). Performances are uneven, but some are especially good; among the eight actors, Gillespie, Alter and Bennett stand out.
And, although no costume designer is credited, somebody got it right about how Mainers dress, even down to their shoes. Among 19 characters, the only stylish one is a woman who used to live in Almost but has been away for years. As for the others, think Upper Peninsula when nobody’s watching.
You won’t find it on your GPS, but “Almost, Maine” is worth a visit.
Michigan Actors Studio, 648 E. 9 Mile Rd., Ferndale. Friday-Sunday through May 21. $15 http://www.michiganactorsstudio.com/2011-theatre-season/.