‘Almost, Maine’ completely splendid

Reviewed by Sarah Roche

Last night (June 10), I attended the Chenango River Theatre’s (CRT) production of “Almost, Maine” as well as the actor talkback session held after the production. Driving to the location with my Google map in hand led me to believe that I was in for a community theater production. The theater is about 20 minutes outside of Binghamton and housed in a large aluminum building that looks a bit like a garage. Upon entering, I was greeted by a friendly ticket booth operator who directed me down the hallway and through a door. Once through the door I walked into a dark theater that seats approximately one hundred patrons. I would never have expected such an intimate theater in such a large building.

The scenery on stage was simple, a back screen with a low horizon of mountains. The snow piled around the stage was convincing enough that a number of patrons stopped to touch it. Throughout the play a wooden bench is moved around the stage between scenes. The lack of stage decoration really allowed the audience to focus on the characters.

“Almost, Maine” is a contemporary play that debuted in 2002. It is a series of vignettes, each lasting 10 minutes or less, united in the literal takes on phrases associated with love. To tell you much about them would be to spoil the scenes.

Each vignette features two actors on the stage at a time. CRT used four actors to play the myriad of roles. By the second scene, it had become apparent that these were professionals, able to completely absorb their changing roles.

The play is wonderfully written, with well-placed laughs and poignant moments.  I was thrilled that a local theater company chose to work with contemporary material, and I felt that the choice of this play in particular was exemplary. It allowed the audience to see something that they most likely hadn’t seen before balanced with an enjoyable, relatable production.

This is an entertaining play that I would strongly recommend you attend.  If you know someone who is a bit intimidated by theater, this performance would be a great introduction.

In the actor talkback session after the play, the audience discovered that this particular play had a very short rehearsal time, cut by a week from the industry standard. I would never have guessed that these actors had rushed to learn the material, and judging from other comments, neither could the rest of the audience members.  The four New York City-based actors discussed the audition process, methods they use for changing characters so quickly and graciously thanked the audience. They were generous with their time and answered questions sincerely.

I think one of the great things about this production is the quality of the actors. They are a strong ensemble that allowed the characters they were playing to come to life.

I left the theater to the see fireflies flashing and hear bull frogs croaking. I would never have guessed I would find a professional theater company in Greene, NY, and I was thrilled by the surprise. I can’t recommend “Almost, Maine” enough, and I am very excited for the rest of the CRT season.

Editor’s note: Performances continue through June 26.

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3 Responses to "‘Almost, Maine’ completely splendid"

  1. Once again, this was a very moving and sincere production in a long list of the Chenango River Theatre’s presentations, and it is a shame that Friday night’s performance (June 17) was not sold out.
    The four featured actors who played many roles were extremely convincing in portraying so many different, contrasting personalities, and they had the audience in the palms of their hands.
    But people should realize that the play’s success does not just fall on them. The director, lighting, sound, scene and costume designers all contributed their expert creative talents — not to mention the playwright, who conceived of it in the first place. They should all be congratulated.
    In regard to the play itself, I do have one comment: The publicity for “Almost, Maine” described its premise, which involved the Northern Lights’ psychological effect on the people in this little town. But had I not read this in advance, I would not have learned this information from the play itself. There was only one reference to the Northern Lights, and that was by a character who believed that they were the physical manifestations of recently deceased love ones — a different concept all together. As touching as the play was, I waited in vain for someone else to inform the audience about this phenomenon. It would have made it even more effective.

  2. sarahroche

    Robert,

    You make a great point about the Northern Lights effect. I also read that in the publicity, but there was no mention of the effect in the program. It was discussed during the actor talkback during the show I attended. Do you think the explanation should have involved a scene explaining the Northern Lights effect or should it have been hinted at with lines throughout the scene?

  3. Sarah,

    I think that somewhere along the line, one of the characters could have mentioned the strange effect of the Northern Lights. Even something like, “Oh no, this happened last year & it’s happening again!” I know that’s a crude example, but it would have put everything in a clearer perspective.