Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 22, 2008

Almost, Maine

Chester Theatre Company, Chester MA
through July 27, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

"Almost, Maine" is a delight, a smorgasbord of vignettes with beginnings, middles, and endings that make sense. Some are poignant, or frothy, or silly, even a tad shocking – especially the latter is to the characters played by two actors, Jim Beaudin and Paden Fallis, who are appropriately direct, awkward and flabbergasted.

A director less skilled and disciplined than Chuck Hudson might have encouraged excessive punching of some lines, even supported an actor’s inclination to go over the top. Not Mr. Hudson. Instead both he and the cast of four (who divvy up portraying 19 characters) respect the creative machinations of the playwright’s mind. That John Cariani’s "Almost, Maine," is included in "New Playwrights: Best Plays of 2006" by Smith and Kraus seems a logical choice.

This is an all A-Team production. The ending of one mini play and the beginning of the next are effected a few beats shy of blackout pace. As soon as the lights come up, the actors have nano seconds to establish who they are. Each actor assumes a new identity: Manon Halliburton (six), Tracey Liz Miller and Fallis, (four each), and Beaudin (five).

Halliburton and Beaudin may be sitting self-consciously on a bench. Miller may be waiting for a display of the Northern Lights or arriving at the door of a long-ago suitor. Fallis and Beaudin may be comparing notes on their individual preferences when it comes to spending an evening. Innocuous stuff? Not the stuff of drama? Wrong. And, wrong again.

It is possible to mount a play without sound and lighting designs but when the wind howls hard enough to overcome thoughts of a heat wave baking Chester’s outdoors and a shimmering aurora borealis fills one’s senses, the talents of Sound Designer Tom Shread and Resident Lighting Designer Lara Dubin enhance the many pleasures of "various locales in the small, remote town of Almost, Maine."