In the playwright’s notes, John Cariani expresses this sentiment under the heading ‘On time’: “The plot of each scene in Almost Maine climaxes with some sort of magical moment”.
Forgive me if I am wrong, but hearing the phrase “magical moment” is enough to turn any good soul cold; I predicted that I may find the production nauseating. However it’s Christmas time and, undeniably, something happens around this time of year that weakens our resolve and transforms phrases such as “magical moment” away from the stultifying clichés that they mostly are, into sweet emblems of the festive feeling. Audiences have a long history of being more forgiving and open this time of year, and I predict that Almost Maine will hit the right warm, fuzzy spot for most festive season lovers.
This is the first time that John Cariani’s Almost Maine is being performed at a professional theatre in the UK, though it has certainly enjoyed rampant success in the US, becoming one of the most performed plays in secondary schools around the country. That is not to say that the play escapes controversy: a recent successful campaign saw a teacher putting on the production with students outside of school time, after the headmaster halted the production due to concern regarding the same-sex love scene.
There are 19 parts divided up between the six extremely competent actors. The strong talent manages to imbue the play with enough genuine charm that the production escapes being the sickly-sweet dessert it threatens to be in written form, despite the constant interjections that try to imply otherwise: “Almost Maine is for romantics – not sentimentalists”.
Set within the second, smaller studio at Park Theatre, the play feels intimate, which helps to conjure the humanity that is so vital to this production’s success. The black floor is partially painted white to depict snow and the actors have minimal props at their disposal, making the stage fairly basic, but with the wave of characters one hardly needs further distraction. One of the biggest draw cards is the Maine accent, perhaps one of the most endearing accents in America and certainly suited to this sort of production: the actors excel in their commitment to it.
Cariani’s play has numerous strengths, including its imaginative approach to illustrating love, boldly flirting with the idea of magical realism in a powerful and often surprising way. From the two boys who can’t help literally falling (down) in love, to the woman burdened by the physical weight of love, to the married couple who can no longer fake their happiness by wishing on stars – the play is brimming with sweet moments that, incredibly, come across as genuine and warm. Even the fiercest critic, I hope, would find the imagination of Cariani somewhat endearing. The stories he creates are based on themes of loneliness, desire and misunderstanding that are common to an audience, but he elevates these moments into the surreal.
Park Theatre was wise to put this production on in this particular slot, for had it begun in February when the festive feeling is well and truly gone, audiences may not be so charmed by the showcase of sentimentality.
Almost Maine is playing at the Park Theatre until 17 January 2015. For more information and tickets, see the Park Theatre website.