Stage Right: Make time for ‘Almost, Maine’
Published 8:45 pm Friday, March 10, 2023
Stage Right by Jeremy Corey-Gruenes
I previewed Albert Lea Community Theater’s production of “Almost, Maine” Wednesday night at the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center. Directed by Christy Fuller, the play features eight 10-minute scenes (most featuring just two characters) along with a shorter prologue, interlogue and epilogue. Each scene takes place one winter evening in rural Maine, just before 9 p.m.
Expect a running time of about 90 minutes, plus a 10-minute intermission.
Email newsletter signup
Almost, Maine’s set design is simple and effective, featuring a house exterior and front door, a few snow-covered trees, a starry sky and little else. The design succeeds in creating an outdoor atmosphere for most scenes and facilitates quick scene changes, which is one of the play’s strengths: the brevity of every scene and the actors’ chemistry in most scenes will keep audiences engaged throughout.
Billed as “a real romantic comedy,” the various romances featured in Almost, Maine’s eight scenes are often both comically quirky and painfully real. Audiences will chuckle at some point in nearly every scene, but below the surface — and sometimes poking just above it — lies a strong sense of loneliness and desperation for love and companionship.
All but three cast members play two different characters in separate scenes, and most do quite well in making them distinct. Many will recognize reliable ACT veterans, such as John Cochron and Brian Mattson on stage, but newcomers Heather Torley, Lyle Sorenson and Samantha Weir may leave stronger impressions in their ACT debuts.
Torley plays a fast-talking waitress in her first scene, but it’s her second role that’s particularly strong. In “They Fell,” Torley (Shelly) shares great chemistry and comedic timing with Emma McColley (Deena), whose facial expressions and deadpan responses to Torley’s often hilarious lines had me laughing out loud.
Sorenson shines, although more quietly, in his debut as well. In “Where It Went,” he and Kristan Dye deliver striking performances as a middle-aged couple who’ve drifted apart.
Their dialogue is realistic in both its humor and mundanity, before turning to sadness and resentment. Dye’s dynamic performance contrasts well with Sorenson’s more understated one to produce a scene that will stick with me.
Weir’s performance in “Sad and Glad” is memorable, too. Her character, Sandrine, runs into her ex-boyfriend on probably the worst night one could imagine bumping into an ex who has never gotten over you. He’s the sad one; she’s the glad one, and her attempts to kindly navigate his sadness without breaking his heart all over again create many awkwardly believable moments.
Other notable performances include Aaron Zogg and Kristi White in “This Hurts,” a scene that could inspire big responses from a full audience with its physical comedy and characters seeking respectful, loving support. Zogg also shines in his second scene, “Seeing the Thing,” with Emma McColley. Again, Zogg’s physical comedy and attention to the details of stage business thoroughly entertain while McColley’s character (Rhonda) struggles to recognize two things Zogg’s character (Dave) desperately wants her to see.
Audiences will also enjoy ACT veteran Michelle Supalla in her two roles as Glory and Hope. These characters might be the most vulnerable of them all in that they’re traveling alone, each seeking something the men they encounter cannot give them. Patrick Bird’s well-delivered and oddly invested responses to Hope in “Story of Hope” are strange at first but suddenly make sense once the audience finally catches up to the reality of what’s been right in front of their eyes the entire scene.
That theme, our struggle to both see and appreciate what’s directly before us, is a common thread linking the play’s eight scenes. Despite working with a script that is at times a bit hokey, ACT’s performance of “Almost, Maine” is one that will resonate with many and is definitely worth checking out.
Jeremy Corey-Gruenes has taught writing and literature courses at Albert Lea High School since 2001. He also co-produces the local storytelling event and podcast The Story Show. Have a story to tell? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org