A look into the Middle Division’s production of “Almost, Maine”: Student Review

Amelia Feiner, Staff Writer

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Wintery nights in Maine can be chilly, but the Middle Division’s (MD) emotional performance of John Cariani’s “Almost, Maine” brought warmth to the hearts of every person in the theater. The series of vignettes, each taking place in the same ten minute time span around a small town in northern Maine, deals with love and loss in rural America. Under the watchful eye of theater teacher and director Haila Van Hentenryck, MD actors tackled these complex themes maturely while still infusing a sense of youth into every scene.

Cariani’s vignettes are dotted with profound lines, expertly delivered by the young actors. In the play’s Prologue, Jeffrey Dai (7) and Nikki Pande, playing Pete and Ginette respectively, attempt to move closer to one other on a painfully awkward date.  However, the two characters have opposing opinions about what constitutes closeness. During this interaction, Dai’s Pete softly muses about how “the farthest away you can be from somebody is if you’re sitting right next to them.” This vignette set the tone for the cute but raw romantic scenes to follow.

Van Hentenryck stayed true to Cariani’s specific stage directions, maintaining the long beats included in the script so that large chunks of the play were spent in utter silence. This silence felt meaningful and true to life during the first few vignettes, but over the course of the show’s almost two hour run time, it became exhausting. Audiences were forced to sit through dozens of quiet and motionless minutes in anticipation of only a short moments of action. The play’s true power lies within its words rather than its silence.

Although the show was filled with long pauses, most of these delays were not caused by the set. In fact, the show’s simple geometric set transitioned seamlessly from scene to scene without so much as a blackout. One standout transition was the creation of a restaurant in the first act of the show. The two main characters sat downstage so that the focus was on them, but behind an upstage panel, several actors sat eating and drinking to maintain the ambiance of an actual bar.

In addition to the physical set, the use of car lights and engine sounds also added realism to several vignettes. Various scenes relied heavily on lighting to replicate the night sky and northern lights. The beautiful blue, green, and red lights illuminated the skene to create a heavenly glow, and constellations of stars were projected on the stage behind the actors.

The costumes also added to the wintery setting, with the actors bundled in multiple layers of clothing to stay warm during the cold  Maine night. This costume design was highlighted in the scene entitled “Seeing the Thing” in which characters who have recently discovered their love for one another rip off their clothes in attempts to explore their new relationship. However, this process took several minutes as each of them has to take of multiple layers of coats, shirts, pants, and socks. The audience roared with laughter as the characters muddled their way through the exciting moment, ripping off layers of clothing only to reveal more underneath.

It is scenes such as this one that encapsulate the heart and soul of “Almost Maine”. Small town characters stumble through transcendent and powerful moments, using wit and charm to process love and loss, all during one snowy winter night, forcing audience members to recall their own lifetimes of heartbreak and joy.