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Feb 19, 2010 - Mar 28, 2010
By John Cariani
Central Iowa Premiere Production
DATES Feb. 19-28, 2010
“A charmer! Unexpected magic lingers in the air like some breath on a cold winter’s night. John Cariani aims for the heart by way of the funny bone.” New Jersey Star-Ledger “Playful, romantic and smart.” AM New York
A romantic comedy (opening five days after Valentine’s Day – ahhhh!) with the quirky, off-beat sensibility of the popular TV series, “Northern Exposure.” On a cold, clear, moonless night in the middle of winter, all is not quite what it seems in the remote, mythical town of Almost, Maine. As the northern lights hover in the star-filled sky above, Almost’s residents find themselves magically falling in and out of love in unexpected, and often hilarious, ways. Knees are bruised. Hearts are broken. But the bruises heal, and the hearts mend – almost – in this delightful midwinter night’s dream.
Director – Brad Dell
Assistant Director – Heidi Germann
Production Stage Manager – Dana Gustafson
Assistant Stage Manager – Adrienne Miller
Scenic Designer/Tech Director – Ron Borstad
Lighting Designer – Nick Juelsgaard
Costume Designer – Emily Ganfield
Properties Designer – Heidi Germann
Sound Designer – Casey Gradischnig
THEATER REVIEW: AUDIENCE WARMED BY SNOWY PLAY
By BRUCE CARR • Special to the Register • February 23, 2010
You may be completely sick of all the cold and “fluff” we’ve endured these past months, but don’t let anybody tell you that StageWest’s current production of “Almost, Maine” is just more fluff. Yes, the play is made up of 10 mostly fun, mostly fluffy dramatic sketches, and yes the Stoner Theater’s stage-set consists almost entirely of snowdrifts; but about the middle of the second act, playwright John Carian’s mood suddenly turns almost unbearably hot.
Suddenly a man and woman start tearing into each other, and this scene is not relieved with an amusing joke at the end. Fortunately for our emotional well-being, Carian restores the balance a little later, with another man and woman hotly tearing into each other — this time in a much more, um, pleasurable way, and we can feel happy again.
Set in a mythical, and sometimes surreal, northern Maine many miles distant from the ocean — no lobsters, no down-east accents — the play presents a succession of quirky opposite-sex couples as they try to get their arms around their several relationships. (Plus one same-sex couple, and it’s anybody’s guess how that one turns out.) The 19 characters engage two-by-two in lots of talk, lots of clever misunderstanding, lots of silence and a good amount of double-take mugging that the four actors handled quite well.
Susan Lynn usually played the cute one, whose hope to escape the confines of her home town usually out-paces her ability to handle the consequences. Elisabeth A. Ballstadt was the strong, even brash, one, eventually overcome by pity or lust. Characters played by Jeff Mason and Scott Siepker were mostly big, confused lugs. All four actors were expert at differentiating their typical characters into almost believable humans.
Brad Dell’s direction kept the two-hour play moving at an engaging pace while maintaining its exotically frozen atmosphere. Even the scenery-changing stage hands wore woolen scarves, exchanging the conventionally invisible kabuki-black for Eddie Bauer flannel and fleece.
OK, some of these love-stories may seem at first overly sweet (I almost said “corny,” but this is Maine we’re talking about after all). But when you put your own scarves back on at the end, you’ll head out into Iowa’s continuing freeze much warmed, and in more ways than you may have expected. Nor will “Almost, Maine” continue here for long, and I counted only about 10 empty seats on Saturday.
THEATER REVIEW: ‘ALMOST, MAINE’ SATISFIES WITH ‘ALMOST, PERFECT’ PERFORMANCES
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
StageWest Theatre Company continues to produce rich scripts into marvelous stage work, with a real gem in their current show, “Almost, Maine.” This production satisfies on many levels, and leaves the audience with a warm, theatrical afterglow.
John Cariani’s “Almost, Maine” plays like a 10-part sit com compressed into a single banquet upon which the audience feasts. The beauty of Cariani’s script is that not only was it written by an actor turned playwright, but an artist who understands how to build a mutually rewarding theatrical experience for his audiences. “Almost Maine” dances through a myriad of relationship complexities with a master’s grace, sharing a delicious range of situations, emotions and reactions. Human nature is lampooned, caressed and honored throughout this show.
StageWest gives bonus entertainment for all who attend their performances. No one serves as a pre-show impresario better than the company’s artistic director, Ron Lambert. With an infectious mix of promotional savvy and unabashed enthusiasm and gratitude for StageWest’s role in the community, Lambert is as successful as the person who warms up a studio audience before a show goes on-air. Everyone loves it. Lambert is the perfect sorbet for the “StageWest Theatrical Experience.”
Now, for their current experience. Start with a strong script – done. Cariani’s clever dialogue makes it easy to embrace the parade of characters he conjures, with some “proverbial” situations teetering on the brink of groaners. Next, the cast. This production of “Almost, Maine” has one of the strongest, most consistent ensembles to grace a Central Iowa stage. Director Brad Dell assembled a very talented quartet which understands how to feed off of one another. The results are a richly textured, masterfully nuanced series of loosely interconnected scenes. The trick is to simply let the action and relationships come to you, rather than try to noodle out who means what to whom. These actors play multiple characters in this quick-paced series of love stories. Set in a seemingly isolated small Maine town, we quickly learn there are layers of caring within this community, and are quickly drawn into these lives as their dramas, comedies and foibles unfold. The actors deftly glide from role to role, leaving a savory wake of appreciative and empathetic understanding.
Elisabeth A. Ballstadt shines with impeccable comic timing and spot-on capturing of each moment’s magic. She wears her characters’ cloaks with chameleonic grace, and is as comfortable as a waitress as she is as a tomboy snowmobiler discovering salacious joys of boy-girl fun. Scott Siepker excels in his multiple identities, from earnest suitor to redneck rustic. This may be his best work to date in as he layers his diverse roles skillfully. Newcomer Jeff Mason revels in a scattering of personalities that range from bumbling romantic to backwoods buffoon to disenchanted husband. Mason builds each moment on stage with memorable subtly. In some of the more poignant scene work, Susan Lynn brings nice complementary work to Ballstadt. While she doesn’t quite achieve the same level of commitment in some of her characters as the rest of the ensemble, she and Mason combine for an effectively physical scene, “This Hurts.” Lynn also shades her character in the Prologue and Epilogue with nice shades of quirky sweetness and melancholy.
Thanks to Dell’s skillful direction and his actors’ skills, this ensemble demonstrates the often overlooked power of silence and stillness between the dialogue. Some of the most moving moments happen without a spoken word, creating some riveting and rib-tickling snapshots onstage. This tour de force foursome seems to effortlessly transition through each scene, and each special mix of characters. It’s a treat to experience this level of performance. Add great production team support, led by Scenic Designer Ronald Borstad, Lighting Designer Nick Juelsgaard, and Costume Designer Emily Ganfield, and you’ll find yourself transported to the sublimely skewed, totally entertaining world of Almost, Maine.
For the uninitiated or occasional patrons of the StageWest experience, this is a must-see. StageWest has developed its audiences into a supportive, anticipatory partner in the live theatre experience. “Almost, Maine” brings a complete production experience to Greater Des Moines audiences, even down to the shift crew dressed in winter garb. It’s the little things that add up to a huge production, and StageWest knows how to take care of the little things. Catch this winter delight before it melts away after February 28.