The Bay City Players are kicking off the winter portion of their 2012 season with Almost, Maine - a play that explores the chilly and heated contradictions of the human heart with both wit and passion.
Written by American actor John Cariani, the play is composed of nine short plays that explore love and loss in a remote mythical place called Almost, Maine. When it premiered at the Portland Stage Company in Portland, Maine, it broke box office records and garnered wide critical acclaim.
The New York Times encapsulated the focus of action in this production as “a comedy comprising almost a dozen two-character vignettes exploring the sudden thunderclap of love and the scorched earth that sometimes follows, reaching audiences depending upon their affection for its whimsical approach to the joys and perils of romance.”
Directed by Susan Meade, whom has worked with Bay City Players for over 30-years as an actress, director and Board Member, she has acted in over 50 productions over the years and directed eight prior productions, so is no stranger to the challenges and rewards presented with approaching thematic structures.
When asked what she feels distinguishes Almost, Maine from other contemporary productions in the lexicon of American theatre, she explains how it is Cariani’s love letter to the town of Presque Isle, Maine, a remote northern area where there aren’t many people but an overabundance of sky.
“It is the opposite of contemporary city life because the setting is about the woods and open space enough to day dream,” she reflects. “Cariani is a New York (Law & Order) actor who felt too many contemporary plays were urban centered and wanted to prove there was a lot more of the world to portray. So his mission is to show that the people of Almost, Maine are ‘life smart’, with characters that discover love won or lost in a single evening at the same time on a Friday night at 9 PM in mid-winter.”
Is it difficult to work and develop continuity with nine short plays or vignettes that exist within a single production? And as a Director, what is Susan’s focus and emphasis that she is attempting to infuse into the production?
“The play is warm and charming, at times hilarious, and differs from most romantic comedies in its innocence, sweetness, lack of guile, strong language and manipulation,” she states. “The biggest challenge in directing Almost, Maine, is to follow and adhere to the author’s many script notes on the simplicity of presentation. The play has hilarious moments that are funny because the actors aren’t being comedic. They are real people living their real lives. The comedy and the sadness come from the truthfulness of the characterizations.”
“Another challenge lies in assembling a cast of 11 in 9 vignettes,” she continues. “Some productions of Almost, Maine have been performed with four actors and others with as many as 20. Each vignette has two or three characters, so working with actors to convey thoughts and feelings simply and naturally has been an interesting and rewarding experience.”
With a cast that includes Keith Schnable, Amy Britt, Cameron Pichan, Amanda Glashauser, Marty Hofelich, Renee Pawloski, Gwen Miller, Carrie Butten, Ryan Lisius, Cathie Stewart and Jordan Lindow, Susan notes that in casting the play for community theatre, she decided to use more people than her original intent of four to six actors.
“Many excellent people read for the roles and all could be filled, but with school, family and work schedules, it was difficult to bring a small cast together to rehearse 9 vignettes. By using a larger cast I could work with 2-3 people at a time and devote all my attention to the scene. Plus I think the variety adds to the spice of the play and gives more people an opportunity to perform and perfect a role.”
Susan adds that everything is hinged and connected together through the thematic imagery afforded by Mother Nature. “The aurora borealis is crucial to the story,” she emphasizes, “and there is no way to do the story without it. It provides the continuity for the nine vignettes by indicating that all the magic takes place in one night. Continuity is also maintained by the music throughout the scenes and the lighting transitions.”
“The focus and emphasis for me is on the naturalness and simplicity of presenting love in all its aspects in an atmosphere without distractions,” she concludes. “And in many ways, the biggest challenge is in presenting the play with the reverence the author has transmitted in the script – his love for hometown and its people.”
“If we can bring that off, we will have succeeded.”
Almost, Maine will be presented by The Bay City Players on January 13-15 and January 19-22. Go to baycityplayers.com for box office hours, ticket prices and show times, or phone the box office at 989-893-5555. Bay City Players is located at 1214 Columbus Avenue, Bay City.