Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
In keeping with the wintry season, Flint Community Players opened their first production of the New Year Thursday with John Cariani’s curiously endearing play, Almost, Maine. Although lacking a conventional plot, a series of vignettes depicting the goings-on one chilly night at 9 o’clock in a remote Maine town more than compensates. There is comedy (lots of that), pathos, and just enough wacky weirdness to make this one of the most memorable shows you’ll see this year.
Director Sarah E. Jarrett’s young cast performs all but one of the scenes as duets but never with the same person. Nine players take all of the roles beginning and ending with Pete (George Lieber) and Ginette (Brittany Reed) as two shy kids experimenting with the romantic idea that distance brings them closer.
The next bit, titled “Her Heart”, finds East (Patrick Munley) discovering Glory (Tomoko Miller) camping out in his yard to await the northern lights. Miller is terrific as she seeks to heal her heart broken by the death of her estranged husband. East is unsure of this interloper at first but ultimately offers to mend her heart. This piece sets an overall theme linked to the northern lights which are said to generate a temporary electrical excitement in both the atmosphere and maybe also in people.
In “Sad and Glad” Lieber plays the long-suffering Jimmy who sits in the local tavern drowning his sorrows alone. Suddenly he encounters the object of his bemoaned affection, Sandrine (Layla Meillier). His hopes are raised, but soon dashed again. Then, intriguingly, things begin to look up when fate arrives in the guise of the high-spirited waitress (Reed).
The laughs came fast and furious in “This Hurts”. Shane McNicol and Lauren Kondrat play Steve and Marvalyn, two renters who meet in the laundry room. Supposedly Steve cannot feel pain, and even carries two notebooks to keep track of things to fear and things that hurt. The action starts when an overwrought Marvalyn clocks him with an ironing board, and he doesn’t react at all! These two are wonderful in their portrayals of these two oddly unsure people.
Can love be stored and then returned? Gayle (Miller) thinks so in “Getting It Back” as she hauls in large fluffy bags to return the “love” given her by Lendall (Ryan Fuhst). She thinks eleven years of dating is long enough and wants all the love she gave him returned as well. When he does agree to return her love, everything changes. Sweet and funny.
“They Fell” had the audience howling Thursday as Chad (Fuhst) and Randy (Munley) first tried to outdo each other with dating horror stories (can you really break someone’s face?) only to find they’d fallen for each other – quite literally! These two are terrific!
Phil and Marci (Kyle Clark & Meillier) return from the ice skating pond, but the air is tense. Marci seems unduly rattled over losing her shoe, and then we find that Phil forgot their anniversary in “Where It Went”. Meillier and Clark have one of the best (and loudest) arguments we’ve seen, but it’s not going anywhere, at least until the other shoe drops!
Possibly the saddest story follows in “Story of Hope” when Hope (Reed) returns to accept a long ago tendered marriage proposal from Daniel (McNicol) and then fails to recognize him when she arrives.
Finally, Kondrat and Clark were a riot in “Seeing The Thing” as Rhonda and Dave, two co-workers who find they’re more than just buddies. Kondrat exudes guarded enthusiasm and is a hoot when she finally “sees”!
Jarrett’s troupe handled these stories with perfect timing, grace and style. Set pieces glided smoothly on and off with a little help from cast members, and the beautiful starry backdrop set the mood nicely.
Almost, Maine is one of those shows you will remember for a long time. Be sure to see it! It runs January 15, 16, 22, 23 at 7:30 pm and January 17 & 24 at 2:30 pm. For more information and/or tickets contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com