Just in time for Valentine's Day: 'Almost, Maine'

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By Doug Deuchler

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The Saltbox Theatre Collective continues its second season at Madison Street Theater, 1010 Madison St., with an episodic romantic comedy by John Cariani called Almost, Maine. This playful, unpredictable midwinter night's dream features 19 actors in a collection of nine different scenes. All of the segments seem to be happening about the same time on a Friday evening in a fictional small town in northern Maine. 

 Brian Fruits, Saltbox's surefooted director, presents a funny, often poignant show that arrives just in time for Valentine's Day. All the loosely intertwined situations focus on all sorts of couples falling in and out of love. This production might make a perfect date night outing although it has appeal to anyone who enjoys a lively rom-com. Two of the episodes feature same-sex couples. But there is no overt sexuality or potentially offensive language, so the show would be appropriate for teens, too. 

 There is a touch of magical surrealism in some of the vignettes, which feature unexpected twists.

 The stark set includes a brightly painted red bench against a solid black background that suggests a variety of settings. We might also imagine a blanket of snow and a New England village in the distance. The actors mostly wear heavy winter garb. 

 The title of each episode, all of which illustrate the magic and mystery of love, is projected onto the back of the set.

 In one of the nine episodes, a recent young widow (Janie Crick), who wants to see the Northern Lights, pitches her tent in the backyard of a lonely repair man (Chas Howard) who quickly falls for her. The woman carries her heart, broken into 19 pieces, in a small paper sack.

 In another vignette, a middle-age husband and wife (Mark and Terri Bernstein) who "don't have fun anymore" have gone ice-skating. While they're hunting for her lost left shoe they finally admit they no longer love each other.

 Two estranged ex-lovers run into each other at the Moose Paddy, a bar that's mentioned in several scenes. The guy (Ryan Smetana), who has an odd tattoo, hopes to rekindle their lost love, but his old flame (Alexandra Rust), who's there for a girl's night out, is not interested. The waitress (Kaycee Jordan), however, seems to be connecting with him.

 Some of the episodes are absurdist. Two best buddies (Brian Bengston and David Burks) literally fall — as in, kerplunk — in love with each other. There are repeated, uncontrollable crashes to the floor as they are swept together to a new level in their relationship.

 A young man (Cory Kahane) is physically unable to feel pain until he begins to fall in love with a neighbor (Sabrina Harms) in his apartment building's laundry room, thanks to an ironing board.

 I had never heard of this heartfelt, oddly funny contemporary play till now, but I've learned it's widely and frequently performed since it requires almost no set or special effects. It could be mounted with a cast of four playing all the roles or, as it is here, with 19 different actors playing all the various compelling couples in separate scenes. Steven Cox is the stage manager. Andy Pederson and Janie Crick created the music.

 Other members of the cast are: Matthew Bender, Carly Crawford, Corwyn Cullom, Erin Doherty, Angela Jos, Maggie Robinson, Lauren Scislowicz, and Dane Van Brocklin.

 Almost, Maine is a pleasant, escapist collection of love tales featuring well-paced, deliberate direction, charming performances, and a delightfully goofy script. There is one 10-minute intermission.

 Performances continue weekends until Feb. 19. On Fridays and Saturdays the curtain is at 7:30 p.m. Matinees on Saturday and Sundays are at 2 p. m. Tickets are $15 for students and seniors, $20 for adults.

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