On the town John Car­i­ani’s Al­most, Maine


Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Jen­nifer Levin I The New Mex­i­can

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

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