By Flora Norton
Written by John Cariani, ‘Almost, Maine’ is a whimsical play which offers a series of glimpses into the distinctly ordinary love lives of a handful of distinctly ordinary small-town folk. Tucked away in the corner of the huge meat market stables, the set is small, and the stage is blanketed in a layer of fluffy white snow. Perched expectantly on a rickety set of choir rises, the audience is a mixed bag of families, teens, an elderly couple and a few young adults. Despite the draughty room and unusual set-up however and within seconds of the lights coming up for the opening scene, the audience is transported immediately to the wintry town of Almost and engaged instantly in the awkward conversation taking place between the two characters on stage.
Abbie-Lee Hough’s set design, in conjunction with simple yet effective lighting (John Collopy) and sound (Justin Gardam) is deeply charismatic and creates an enchanting, almost fairy-tale like atmosphere which lingers throughout the play and successfully draws in the attention of the audience. It is this, almost nostalgic and magical air, which enables the series of brief, and ultimately uneventful skits to be engrossing despite their mundanity.
Supported by a talented cast, Cariani’s script invites us to witness just a snippet from various character’s grapples with love, often withdrawing before the story is concluded and rarely revisiting characters to provide a resolution. Tying together relatable scenarios with moments of slap-stick humour and comic cynicism, the disjointed structure is initially effective in keeping the audience captivated and Cariani toys playfully with our natural desire to know the endings.
The endearing declarations, absurd demonstrations and heart-wrenching dismissals of love that litter the play are comical yet relatable and expose the vulnerability we all feel when we experience love and heart break. From a desperate teen who’s feelings are so clearly unrequited, to a married couple who have lost sight of the spark that brought them together and are imprisoned in an eternal state of bickering, to a pair too awkward to admit their feelings for each other, Cariani delves into every manifestation of unremarkable, commonplace love.
The play is no doubt frustrating at times as characters we have become invested in are abruptly interrupted by new scenes with new people. This frustration is then often replaced by confusion as the new scene proves to be equally meaningless and fleeting. Yet these varying degrees of exasperation add to the comical nature of the play and ultimately reflect the underlying message that so often, love is unextraordinary, unresolved and unexplained.
For the up and coming theatre company ‘Between the Buildings,’ ‘Almost, Maine’ is an exciting exposition of their talent across all sectors and a promising indication of what they have in store for Melbourne. I would certainly recommend this play to anyone in the mood for a light-hearted and engrossing evening at the theatre but equally, to anybody looking for a philosophical contemplation on the meaning of love.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.