Play: Almost, Maine
Group: West End Players Guild
Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union
Dates: January 30, 31, February 1
Tickets: $15-$18; contact 314-367-0025 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Story: In one of the early vignettes in this two-act comedy, a tourist seeking an ideal spot to view the Northern Lights camps out in a resident’s yard. When he approaches her, she asks, kind of, for his permission to remain, and then inquires where exactly she is. He tells her she’s in Almost, Maine, so-called because the local denizens never got around officially to organizing as a town, thus they are “almost” a village in these outer reaches of the northeastern United States.
Thus it goes throughout this gentle comedy, as four actors and four actresses take turns playing out roles of various residents in this quirky hamlet where the Moose Paddy is the venue of choice for a beer or two and “Jeezum Crow” is the strongest epithet to cross anyone’s lips. Hearts are broken, hopes are dashed, romance blossoms and faith endures beneath all of those parkas and woolen mittens.
Highlights: First produced in 2004 in Maine and later a hit off-Broadway, John Cariani’s light work is a Valentine to the distinctive personalities of the state that gave us both lobsters and Stephen King. It’s not really a play but rather a dozen or so short little visual essays on local characters, and as such succeeds nicely. In particular, the West End Players Guild offers a pleasant two hours under the soft, loving direction of Renee Sevier-Monsey, whose players capture both the charm and goofiness of these lovable eccentrics.
Other Info: It’s truly an ensemble effort, with no one performer neither standing out nor faltering behind. They make the most of Cariani’s clever word play and prove themselves equally adept at the work’s slapstick tendencies, all resulting in plenty of laughs as well as more than a few poignant moments. Janice Bruns-Mantovani, Tom Glessner, Allison Hoppe, Tara Lawton, Matt Linhardt, Kris Ramsey, Sean Ruprecht-Belt and Gayle Wennlund all affix their signatures to this curio card of comedy.
Sevier-Monsey doubles effectively as the show’s set designer, incorporating a series of sheets to provide a snowy background, as well as a side door on one side, a bench on the other and some tables and chairs that allow for settings for different vignettes. Amy Ruprecht-Belt’s lighting design charmingly represents those romantic starry skies, while J.D. Wade’s sound design provides both folksy flavor and heart-tugging melancholy. Russell Bettlach adds a fine touch on the cumbersome costumes that keep out the cold air but allow for the warmth of a heart.
All in all, a visit to Almost, Maine offers a tasty if frothy cup of emotional hot chocolate, good for the palate of the soul.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.