Far from ‘almost’
Sacramento, CA 95815
It’s magic hour, when the northern lights work their Cupidean power on the small northeastern town of Almost, Maine, summoning stripteases, awkward run-ins with exes and a Brokeback Mountain-style love story.
Big Idea Theatre’s production of Almost, Maine is magical itself. The small theater space is completely transformed into a stereotypical small-town winter wonderland, yet there are no kitschy small-town Maine stereotypes. In fact, Almost, Maine could be almost anywhere—as long as there’s snow and a radiating glow of the northern lights.
Big Idea Theatre abandoned its usual “less is more” approach to set design and went for more—lots more. Think 3-D forests, a cozy Transformers-style cabin and starry skies with projectors and black-light paint displaying the northern lights. It’s so good it feels almost chilly.
The series of vignettes, written by John Cariani, get to the core of love. Every story transpires on one night when the aurora borealis is most prominent in the sky, acting like the audience’s Virgil to guide them through different levels of love: innocent, seductive, longing, neglected and lost. Benjamin T. Ismail, the insightful director, and the 11-member cast tackle the subject with wit, moxie and sensitivity.
A lost shoe leads to a discussion about lost intimacy in “Where It Went,” an eerily real depiction of an unhappy marriage. Justin Chapmen (as Phil) and Deborah Forester (as Marci) nail the emotionally distant—and perhaps sexually frustrated—couple going through the motions. Regret and heartbreak reach its climax in “The Story of Hope,” a tale in which Hope (played by Shannon Mahoney) returns from the city to accept a proposal—years too late.
While the emotional stories are engaging, Almost really excels at capturing the hilarious moments—and there are oodles. Kelley Ogden steals the show in “Sad and Glad,” playing a bar waitress to the awkward reunion of a former couple (played by Joshua Glenn Robertson and Kristine A. David). Ogden’s kind of like the pied piper of comedy, luring the audience in with her style and precise comedic timing.
David shines as hardcore tomboy Rhonda in “Seeing a Thing.” She may be able to whoop guys’ butts on a snowmobile, but add in amore and she’s like a video-game nerd who hasn’t seen a man in years.
Robertson is marvelous as Steve in “This Hurts,” a guy who feels no pain—literally. He has a biological disorder and keeps a checklist of all the things that can hurt him, such as bears, fire and pretty girls. Robertson reappears in “They Fell” with Justin Munoz, a hysterical and clumsy story about friendship and real love.
Almost, Maine is infused with a recurring story featuring a flirtatious duo on the brink of new love. Jessica Berkey and Paul Logston’s chemistry is evident as they innocently play in the snow before the play begins. In fact, the play is always in progress: before the show, during intermission and for entertainingly choreographed set changes.
Even after Almost ends, the magic of the northern lights remains.