The language of love is full of poetic imagery. Lovers may "break" each other's hearts or hope to "mend" them, or yearn to have back the "treasure trove" of love they've foolishly spent on another. They might speak of suddenly "falling" for someone or "seeing" the love that was always right "in front" of them. Imagine a world in which such metaphors were more than mere fancy. In playwright John Cariani's boldly uncynical Almost, Maine, which opened last weekend at the Sonoma County Repertory Theatre, that's the kind of world we are introduced to.
Think of it as a magic realism version of the old Love American Style TV show, a gently bittersweet series of short comic vignettes, each focusing on the romantic yearnings, mergings and dissolutions of eight all-too-human couples, all residents or visitors to the fictional town of Almost, Maine, where love, loneliness and the aurora borealis have been doing some very unusual things to the local folks. Directed with pointed simplicity by Sheri Lee Miller, the production features a cast of four actors, all marvelous—Andrea Day (above), Liz Jahren, Tim Kniffin and Dan Saski (above)—shapeshifting and costume-changing their way through various romantic entanglements.
Gloria (Day) arrives in town with a broken heart, the 19 pieces of which she carries in a paper bag, and has mixed feelings when she meets the lovestruck East (Kniffin), Almost's resident repairman. Gayle (Day again) shows up at the home of her longtime commitment-phobic boyfriend (Saski) to demand the return of her love. ("I want it back, all the love I gave you. I've got yours in the car.") The unhappily attached Marvalyn (Jahren), while ironing clothes in the town's one-and-only boarding house, discovers herself unexpectedly drawn to the congenitally analgesic Steve (Kniffin), a sheltered fellow who claims to not feel any pain, even when smacked in the head with an ironing board.
The play joyously revels in these oddball characters as they find or lose love in whimsical ways, traversing the globe in search of true human connection, discovering the surprising truth accidentally tattooed on an arm or literally falling down (repeatedly) at the very moment they fall in love. What could have been cloying and squeamish is instead moving, hilarious and thoroughly entertaining, mainly due to Cariani's grounded dialogue, Miller's careful direction and a cast who make love and loss look "almost" like a midwinter's dream come true.
Almost, Maine plays through Thursday&–Sunday through Feb. 22. Thursday&–Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 2pm. Sonoma County Repertory Theatre, 104 N. Main St., Sebastopol. $18&–$23; Thursday, pay what you can. 707.823.0177.
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