Nancy Sasso Janis
Onstage Connecticut Critic/ Connecticut Critics Circle
Jimmy: Mom and Dad retired, headed south.
Sandrine: Yeah, I heard that.
‘Almost, Maine’ is an odd play written by John Cariani that follows the love lives of a handful of inhabitants of an extremely northern mythical town almost in Canada that never got around to becoming incorporated; hence its odd name. In fact, there are a lot of “almosts” in this two-act piece. The eight mostly unrelated scenes take place on a clear, moonless night that the mysterious Northern Lights appear in the sky and the characters find themselves falling in and out of love in most unexpected ways. The Community Theatre at Woodbury’s production is directed by Maureen Denver and she writes in her notes that “Knees are bruised. Hearts are broken. But the bruises heal, and the hearts mend--almost--in this delightfully quirky mid-summer night’s dream.”
The CTW production is of high quality with a fine cast of area actors. The hand-painted backdrop by Linda Boston sets the chilly scene and the characters are often bundled in many layers of costumes. The lighting by Bill Geddes adds much to the look of this play.
Tatyanna Malagutti (‘New York’) and John Brickel play the cute couple that appear in the prologue, interlogue, and epilogue. Mr. Brickel will take on the role of Gerry in the March CTW production of ‘Dancing at Lughnasa.’ Teresa Moran (‘Steel Magnolias’) and Dennis Walsh of Woodbury are the unlikely couple in the scene called “Her Heart.” Jim Sillery (‘New York,’ ‘Spitfire Grill’) and Clarise Ballesteros (who was so good in ‘Steel Magnolias’) are the ex-couple at the local bar called “The Moose Paddy” in the scene “Sad and Glad” and Christine Parker (‘New York’) is their waitress. Cathy Annulli (‘Love, Loss and What I Wore’ at CTW) and Kathleen Roche literally take multiple pratfalls in “They Fell.” The first act ends with Mr. Brickel and Keli Solomon as yet another couple in “Getting it Back.”
After intermission and the interlogue, the scene “This Hurts” features the strong acting of Ashley Blackwell (in her CTW debut) with an ironing board and the effective Mr. Sillery. Lisa Goldberg (Effy in ‘Spitfire Grill’) and Dennis Walsh argue a lot about a missing shoe and more in “Where It Went” and Ms. Parker, Jack Kearney (one of the founders of this theatre company) and Ms. Annulli appear in “Story of Hope.” Erika Dorio (co-director of ‘Steel Magnolias’) and Rob Koelmel do the final scene “Seeing the Thing.”
‘Almost, Maine’ has never been one of my favorite plays. For me, the laughs are few and far between and the scenes can be slow-moving at best. Some vignettes are stronger than others and on my third viewing, I could remember the ending of most of them.There are a few cross references that almost weave the scenes together, but not enough to my mind. The fact that I enjoyed this production as much as I did was a direct result of the fine direction by Ms. Denver.
The CTW printed programs indicate the strong support that this young theatre company has from the Woodbury business community and there literally was not a seat to be had at the Sunday matinee. The featured artist Diana Swoyer, whose lovely paintings were displayed on the walls around the audience seating, was in attendance. Special thanks for this production was expressed to Amy Perras of Nonnewaug HS Music and Liz Popiel from the WCSU Theatre Program.
Open auditions for the fun-filled musical melodrama ‘Tied to the Tracks’ will be held on Feb. 25, Feb. 26 and Feb. 27 at Old Woodbury Town Hall for performances in May. ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ will be presented in mid-March.
‘Almost, Maine’ runs through next weekend Jan. 20-22 at the Woodbury Historic Town Hall on Mountain Road in Woodbury.
Nancy Sasso Janis (@nancysjanis417) is one of the newest members of the Connecticut Critics Circle and publishes theatre news on local Patch.com sites. Check out her Facebook page Connecticut Theater Previews.
Photo of the cast of 'Almost, Maine' courtesy of Community Theatre at Woodbury