On the town John Cariani’s Almost, Maine
JOHN CARIANI’S ALMOST, MAINE
the Great Depression was a time of massive unemployment and migration in the United States, as banks failed and people packed up and moved across the country in search of work and stable food sources. Times were dark, and for many, the state of the world seemed hopeless, the future unimaginable. Occasions for laughter were slim — and in the face of potential devastation of one’s family, it was easy for laughter to feel frivolous. Yet, with the advent of screwball comedies, the 1930s gave rise to some of the funniest films of all time. Fans flocked to watch the romantic antics of such legendary actors as Irene Dunne, Carole Lombard, Cary Grant, William Powell, and Myrna Loy, who brought zany energy to stories of class struggle, the battle between the sexes, and even murder. When watching a screwball comedy, it was possible to forget your troubles and just giggle for a couple of hours.
Today, as our social media feeds fill with political fury, and news headlines come at us at warp speed, we may require a similar escape. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Red Thread Santa Fe Productions in association with For Giving Productions present the slightly surreal Almost, Maine, written by John Cariani and directed by Janet Davidson, opening Friday, Feb. 10, at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe. Debrianna Mansini, Patrick Briggs, Robyn Rikoon, and Hania Stocker play a variety of lovelorn and generally confused couples in a series of vignettes that are all set in the slightly mythical town of Almost, Maine, where magical realism mixes with the reassuring pace of romantic comedy. Love is lost and found, and sometimes found and lost, often in a perplexing fashion that is not quite connected to reality, such as a woman who carries her broken heart in a bag, another who has packed the love she used to feel for her ex in her car — intent on giving it back to him — and a pair who realize their true feelings for each other only when those feelings force them to literally fall on the ground.
“It’s lovely, is what it is,” Davidson said. “Every little story has something that someone is going to recognize from their own life. It’s simple — not overdone, not a night of angst or hysteria, though some of it is very funny and some of it is very poignant.”
The play had its premiere with Maine’s Portland Stage Company in 2002-2003, and moved offBroadway in the 2005-2006 winter season. Almost, Maine is licensed by Dramatists Play Service, which recently celebrated its 80th anniversary by putting together a collection of eight plays that represent the decades of its existence. Though it was not a critical hit when it was first performed, Almost, Maine was selected for 2006-2016 because it was the most produced play in the DPS catalog for several years. “It won no Tony Award or Pulitzer Prize, and there are arguably more ‘meaningful’ or ‘deeper’ plays — however one might define those,” Craig Pospisil, director of nonprofessional licensing for DPS, wrote in an email to Davidson. “But the Cinderella-like quality of [its] success is unprecedented . ... It’s been a phenomenon in a way that can’t be bestowed like an award.”
Davidson grew up in Queens and began acting professionally as a teenager while training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan. She started acting in movies but left it behind when she realized that she was more interested in what was happening behind the camera than in front of it. She went from answering phones to accounting to assistant-directing numerous episodes of well-known television shows including Remington Steele, Murder, She Wrote, and Cagney & Lacey. She first came to New Mexico in the 1980s to work on a car commercial
and was so enamored of the area that she bought a house in La Cienega, outside of Santa Fe. She split her time between Santa Fe and Los Angeles for several years and then moved here more permanently in 1994 to work on the short-lived science-fiction television series Earth 2, which was shot at Garson Studios and on location around Northern New Mexico.
The town of Almost — which is much smaller than Santa Fe but has a night sky just as bright — is filled with people who have known one another all their lives and have never had the courage to say what they mean or how they feel. The play suggests that even if you’re sure you can never go home again, it might be worth it to try because something unexpected might happen. There is a good deal of slapstick and even more symbolism, often appearing simultaneously, as in the man who does not feel pain because he has never learned to love, so he cannot feel it when a woman in a laundry room hits him with an ironing board. Characters talk over each other in the way that people on the verge of all-consuming passion often do, and most of the vignettes rely on a twist ending, in which pathos comes into contact with humor, and a kind of magical truth is revealed.
Almost, Maine presents a chance to laugh along with a live theater audience, which might bring a much-needed catharsis to some viewers. Medical professionals suggest that laughter has health benefits — from lowering blood pressure and stress hormones to working out your abdominal muscles and providing a general sense of well-being. However impermanent those benefits might be, it cannot hurt to chuckle at the folly of love for a little while. The world will still be there when the curtain comes down.
▼ Almost, Maine, presented by Red Thread Santa Fe Productions in association with For Giving Productions
▼ Opens 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10; performances continue 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 26; benefit Tuesday, Feb. 14, for Theatre Santa Fe, 6:30 p.m. reception, 7:30 p.m. performance
▼ El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, 555 Camino de la Familia
▼ $20, $15 students and seniors, benefit $35 (two for $50); www.almostmainesantafe.brownpapertickets.com
Debrianna Mansini and Patrick Briggs; opposite page, Robyn Rikoon and Hania Stocker