Love and romance, in many quirky, and often literal iterations, is the running thread through “Almost, Maine,” on stage through Jan. 30 at Palm Beach Dramaworks.
John Cariani’s play, originally produced in 2004, is comprised of nine vignettes, all taking place in the same 10-minute time frame of a cold, clear, Friday night in the fictional area of Almost, Maine. While occasionally characters from other scenes are mentioned, each vignette is a stand-alone piece.
The northern lights provide an enchanting backdrop for romance, and in several vignettes, are an integral part of the plot.
A talented ensemble of Irene Adjan, Niki Fridh, Brandon Morris and Shane Tanner play all the characters.
“Almost, Maine” begins with a man (Morris) and woman (Fridh), sitting at opposite ends of a bench, gazing at the sky. When she expresses her feelings and tries to get close to him, he counters with a wild theory on physical proximity, with some unexpected consequences.
Fridh and Morris are also featured in one of the most powerful stories, about a woman who returns to her hometown after many years away, in order to finally reply to her high school sweetheart’s marriage proposal from the night before she left for college.
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The first bit of the eccentricities that populate “Almost, Maine” is revealed in the second scene, in which a man (Tanner) comes upon a woman (Adjan) who has pitched a tent in his yard in order to see the northern lights, while carefully guarding a paper bag with unusual contents.
Tanner and Adjan shine in another vignette about a couple at a crossroads in their marriage; as well as in a sweet and funny piece about two platonic buddies who finally acknowledge their feelings for one another.
In one of the more literal pieces, Morris and Tanner play buddies who, after rehashing a couple of bad dates they’ve had, realize there’s more to their friendship than they thought.
J. Barry Lewis’s gentle direction highlights the leisurely pace of each scene, letting moments linger for full effect.
Michael Amico’s scenic design — a grayish blue backdrop of an evening sky dotted with starlight, wintry trees, snow drifts and some pop-out set pieces — is lovely, both ethereal and effective. Roger Arnold’s howling winds, distant snowmobiles, and other wintry sounds set the tone and cleverly tie the vignettes together. Kirk Bookman’s depiction of the Aurora Borealis and his various versions of moonlight is breathtaking. Brian O’Keefe’s plethora of cold weather garments tell a stylish and sometimes funny story.
Cariani balances out his abstract plots with warmth and humor, giving the intangible nature of romance form and substance. “Almost, Maine” is sweet without being emotionally manipulative, charming without being cloying, innocent without being simplistic. It’s a valentine to love and the people navigating the journeys dictated by their hearts.
If You Go
“Almost, Maine” runs through Jan. 30, at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach
For tickets and more information, or details on the venue’s COVID-19 protocol, call 561-514-4042 or visit PalmBeachDramaworks.org
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Daily News: Palm Beach Dramaworks' 'Almost Maine' a pleasing whole