Written by Patrick Chavis
Almost, Maine — playing at Cypress College — explores various forms of love during a snowy night in an imaginary town in Maine. The play echoes the romantic comedy film Love Actually that preceded it in 2003 but forges a unique path under the dark melancholy lights of the north.
Like Love Actually — Almost, Maine is actually multiple stories told with different narratives but tied together with a broad theme. In both cases, the theme is love, but the similarities end there. Almost, Maine depicts nine love stories taking place in an imaginary place called Almost, Maine.
The stories in Almost, Maine range from sweet and endearing to schmaltzy and heavy-handed. However, love can be schmaltzy and heavy-handed at times. It is understandable why this play is popular and has flourished for years. This is a play for romantic comedy (RomCom) fans. Playwright John Cariani took nine stories, cut out most of the pesky character development and setup, and dropped the audience into the stories’ most dramatic moments. Since Cariani chooses to tell the narrative this way, it feels like watching a good film trailer while knowing you’ll never see the full story because the “trailer” is the full story. It’s frustrating because Cariani has some solid storylines, and it’s effective, given its longevity, and what I witnessed on the day I saw it. There were some charming and heartfelt performances in this production.
There’s a lovely, sturdy stool in the middle of the purposely sparse and spacious set. Wooden logs sprinkled with fake snow created a boundary. A sign left of the stage looks like a street sign spelling out the play’s name and setting, Almost, Maine. The white, translucent backdrop projected a colorful sky in the background. Dark green lighting added to the play’s somber tone.
The use of a live acoustic guitar player added a great atmosphere. The sound design could have further improved the atmosphere and added more to the production, but it was noticeably missing at points.
The opening of this show was perfect. Director Jennifer McMillin-Brick hit a home run at the beginning and end of this show. Ashley Gabrielle Corachea’s (Ginette) and Alejandro Reynoso’s (Pete) awkward, quiet acting set the tone so well, and it is so much about tone and mood when it comes to this play.
“Her Heart” was the second story, and the performances in this one stood out. Crystal Tamayo played Glory, and she had terrific pacing and emotion during her scenes. Jean Poincelet did a fantastic job as well. It’s incredibly silly, but Tamayo and Poincelet make it work. It was one of my favorites of the night.
“Seeing the Thing” was the second to last short story. It was about two friends, Regan Roth (Rhonda) and Tristan Lund (Dave), finally acknowledging their feeling for each other in a cute, artistic way. It’s a simple scene, but Roth and Lund captured an innocence that helped end the main stories on a solid note.
Cypress College’s production of Almost, Maine pulls so effectively on the heartstrings that even some sophomoric acting played into the show’s charm.