After our disappointment with Repertory Philippines' first show of the season, I was rather cautious about how to approach Almost, Maine, another play that I had secured tickets to despite not actually knowing what it's about. In many ways, I often feel that our dedication to watch Rep's regular season plays year after year is almost like an act of charity in order to continue to support the theater company. They do put up some great productions here and there but they don't seem to draw the same sort of audiences that we see with other theater companies.
But Almost, Maine is quite the game-changer and one of those plays that is so charmingly portrayed with writing that is beyond brilliant that one can't help but recommend it strongly to everyone. And given the attendance level of the show at the time we watched, I honestly feel bad that more people probably won't get to see the play.
Such a loss indeed.
Synopsis: Almost, Maine, is a play by John Cariani that made it as far as Off-Broadway, but continues to see circulation among theater groups around the world. The Repertory Philippines staging was directed by Bart Guingona and was staged at the OnStage Theater at Greenbelt 3 from February 19 - March 13, 2016.
The play is actually a series of vignettes tied together loosely to tell larger story. All of the stories share the common theme of being about love and being set in the fictional almost-town of Almost, Maine. The story is broken up into eleven parts that tell the stories of 9 different pairs of characters that are somehow connected to one another through love.
The cast consists of Reb Atadero, Caisa Borromeo, Natalie Everett, and Jamie Wilson, with each of them portraying about 4-5 characters throughout the production. Thus it becomes important to keep close attention to names as they are stated in order not to confuse one character for another despite being portrayed by the same person. Each is quite brilliant and novel in how they tackle their various roles. Their skilled performance combined with the wonderful words of John Cariani really helped to make this production a most memorable one.
The tone of the play involves a lot of metaphors made real in something that is probably easiest termed as magical realism or something like that. One of my favorite stories in the production describes a woman showing up at her boyfriend's house demanding for all the love that she had given him back. She then proceeds to return all the love that he had given her, in the form of large red sacks brought on-stage. Sure, it feels like a bad pun made real, but it's still far wittier than most Hollywood rom-coms that we've seen in recent years and that's something to celebrate.
The movie is wonderfully endearing and is the sort of entertainment experience that lovely when brought to life on stage. Sure, you could do a movie with CGI or whatnot to play with all the ideas of love. But the production has a different sort of impact when you see real-life people acting out the words right in front of you.
Last note, the set design was simply amazing. Sure, you can easily dissect the various elements of the set into their discrete components - there's no mystery to how things came to be. But that's not the point. Instead what does matter is how beautiful it all comes together and how the set becomes another factor in terms of how the story is presented and the theater experience is delivered.
Almost, Maine is one of my favorite plays of recent years and I'm glad that we found the time to see it. And I can only hope that more people get a chance to watch it on its last weekend. Thus the play gets a full 5 stories of love out of a possible 5.