Cameron Pfahler reports back from Almost Maine, the show making its return engagement after a year long hiatus at Players by the Sea. Join us after the jump for the deets!
Art repeats itself. Regardless of the medium, there are cycles and renaissances and remakes. Every new iteration derives its source from something that has come before, no matter how obvious or ambiguous. In theatre, countless productions are performed from the same source material – the script. Thus, it is up to the cast and crew to dig deep and find new ways to tell stories that have, in one form or another, engaged audiences across the globe and through time. There is a surefire element to make any production -- even one that comes from a script produced over 2,500 times – charming and unique:
The return of Players By The Sea’s Almost, Maine (after appearing on the 2014-2015 lineup for only a weekend) can’t decide if it wants to resonate in the audience’s gut or heart. So, it sets out to do both extremely well. Starting with a strong foundation is important in any venture. Playwright and actor John Cariani’s script is a collection of vignettes set in the not-quite-a-town of Almost, on a single night that showcases the Northern Lights. All the scenes are love stories in a way, tenuously connected by shared mentioning of local haunts and fellow characters’ names. But each runs the gamut from infatuation to heartbreak, often focusing on a single connection between two characters. The tone is something impressive, balancing the surreal and the metaphysical with the mundane and universal.
But as even the most layman of theatre-goers can guess, fantastic source material can only get so far on its own. Fortunately, director Bradley Akers makes apparent the deep amount of investment in both his actors and the production team. Minimalism is key in a production where numerous locations are used but only for a scene or two. Akers’ sparse set, with the help of scenic charge artist Katie Dawson, is grounded with a beautiful rendering of a town map on the upstage wall, as well as the introduction, recycling, and rearranging of various props and set pieces that keep actors and stagehands in constant flux during blackouts. Alongside this are Akers’ sound design and Jim Wiggin’s lighting design, both of which highlight key moments and keep the story flowing. Especially the Northern Lights display that appears frequently, much to the cast’s, and audience’s, wonder. This well-oiled production machine (including the stage-managing team of Ramona Ramdeen and Brandon Hines with help from Hunter Steinke, production manager Jereme Raickett, and costume designer Lindsay Curry) only draws attention to itself during significant moments, while consistently supporting the audience’s visit to this faraway, whimsical setting.
Relationships are one of the main commodities of the stage. It takes serious work to sell them over the course of a show. But in this case, Akers’ actors are tasked with selling very different types of relationships with usually only a scene to make it work. The primary foursome of Drew L. Brown, Megan Georgeo, Kat McLeod, and Ricky Watson paint the stage with cloud nine highs and plummeting lows. Various characters are falling in, fighting for, and running from love. The figurative becomes literal (such as a character carrying around her heart in a bag of nineteen pieces or another character with a congenital condition preventing him from feeling pain). It’s a testament to the acting that moments like this never ventured into maudlin territory, but found humor and earnestness instead. Surprisingly, many of the laughs came from great physical comedy by the actors, from well-time falls, head-bashing, and acrobatic kissing. These scenes are underscored by interspersed moments featuring young hopefuls-in-love Kaiti Barta and Grant Williams providing a cute sincerity to tie the whole story together.
The chemistry of the cast, who undoubtedly have grown and discovered so much in the year since PBTS’s last run of Maine, is the essential piece that balances poignancy and heart-rendering. And in a dreamlike place where boots fall from the sky, love can be stashed in huge bags, and bodies physically waste away without hope, portraying grounded, human connection is quite inspiring. Every interaction resounded deeply with authenticity.
And that is, after all, the way life should be.
text by cameron pfahler
by John Cariani
directed by Bradley Akers
Saturday, March 12th
Thursday, March 17th
Friday, March 18th
Saturday, March 19th
Sunday, March 20th
Thursday, March 24th
Friday, March 25th
Saturday, March 26th
All performances at 8:00pm
Except Sunday matinee at 2:00pm
Players by the Sea Theatre
106 6th St N, Jacksonville Beach, Florida 32250
General Admission: $23.00
Thursday Nights are Student Nights: 1/2 Price Tix at the Door with a Valid Student I.D.
904.249.0289 | www.playersbythesea.org
One cold, clear Friday night in the middle of winter, while the northern lights hover in the sky above, Almost’s residents find themselves falling in and out of love in the strangest ways. Knees are bruised. Hearts are broken. Love is lost, found, and confounded. And life for the people of Almost, Maine will never be the same.
Drew L. Brown
Director – Bradley Akers
Stage Manager – Ramona Ramdeen
Asst. Stage Manager – Brandon Hines
Production Manager – Jereme Raickett