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Paulanne Simmons

"Almost, Maine": Not for Lovers Only

Almost, Maine

"Almost, Maine"
Directed by Gabriel Barre
Daryl Roth Theatre
101 East 15th St. at Union Square
Opened Jan. 12, 2006
Tues.-Fr. 8 p.m., Sat. 4, 8 p.m., Sun. 3, 7 p.m.
$26-$66 (212) 239-6200
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Jan. 17, 2006

John Cariani's "Almost, Maine," probably won't win any major awards, but it may prompt more than a few people to visit small towns in that New England state. All of the play's action takes place at nine o'clock on a Friday night in the middle of winter at various locales in a remote section of Maine. All of them, in one way or the other, warm the heart.

Gabriel Barre directs the ten vignettes, all focusing on some aspect of love, that make up the play. A man who cannot love because he cannot feel pain meets a woman who teaches him about both. Two men fall in love with a very visible thud. Snowmobile riders shed their clothing and bare their hearts.

Although the play is called a "romantic comedy," each of these scenes has more irony and whimsy than a pure romance would ever tolerate. There's also a kind of gentle surrealism that makes the vignettes a bit like a "Twilight Zone" for lovers. Cariani illustrates phrases like "waiting for the other shoe to drop" and "you broke my heart" with a literalism that calls forth both a chuckle and a sigh.

Barre directs a small ensemble composed of two men (Todd Cerveris and Justin Hagan) and two women (Miriam Shor and Finnerty Steeves). His direction is so smooth and his actors so versatile that the stage seems populated by a much larger cast. Together they bring the fantastic down to earth in a most believable and delightful way.

James Youmans has created minimal, movable sets, framed by the snowy, starry night, but it is Jeff Croitor's gorgeous lighting that most evokes the frigid evening. It is in this chilly atmosphere that love is born, thrives and sometimes dies.

Some people will surely find Almost, Maine far too saccharine for their taste. For others it will be the perfect cup of tea – sweet with a touch of lemon. Advertisers have chosen to call it "the perfect date play," but you don't really have to be in love to love Almost, Maine.

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