Almost, Maine

MPC_Maine 1608-Print

“Seeing the Thing” Bob Lindall as Dave and Lauren Hoelscher as Rhonda. 

Photo by Gary Bolen

By Philip Pearce

ALMOST, MAINE creeps up on you. You start puzzled, then feel intrigued and end up beguiled.

Before MPC Theatre Company announced it was their November offering, I had never heard of the show. When I read that Almost is a name actually given to offshore Maine, I imagined a couple of hours of stern and rockbound local color on the Morgan Stock Stage. I couldn’t have been more wrong. John Cariani has written eight sly, touching and surreal short plays, with a Prologue that sets the tone of gentle romantic weirdness and an Epilogue that ties a final bow around the package.

Trying to give examples of what happens in this piece lands me in a situation I suspect almost everyone has experienced at one time or another. Something happens to you and you find it so poignant or funny or revealing or profound that you can’t wait to tell somebody else about it. But when you do, too often the response is polite bafflement. You mutter that they would understand if they’d been there. It’s a bit like that with Almost, Maine.

The plays, apart from one trio, are all double headers about people involved in dating or courtship or unrequited love or marriage. Carey Crockett’s attractive wheeled box sets are simple backgrounds to stories that begin in deceptively predictable, even banal circumstances. Then without fanfare or warning something slides quietly into the story line that is unlikely if not downright impossible. And everyone just continues as if the new event is normal if not predictable.

The intrusion of illogic sometimes happens when a figure of speech suddenly becomes literal. In “Her Heart,” Charlotte Bailey as a girl named Glory tells James Brady as a man named East that he has broken her heart and then shows him the pieces rattling around in a paper bag. In “Story of Hope,” playing a girl named Hope, Bailey shows up on the doorstep of her six-foot-something ex-boyfriend. She wants to reconcile with her gentle giant but discovers his house is now occupied by a close-mouthed stranger (Justin Azevedo) who doesn’t seem much more than five feet tall, if even that. When she realizes that this, in fact, actually is her old boyfriend, he explains that the transformation has happened because when she left him he “lost a lot of hope.” Well, if you’d been there …

In “They Fell,” beer and bowling buddies Randy and Chad share recent failures they’ve each had on Saturday night dates. Chad’s girl has dumped him because she doesn’t like the way he smells. Possible, but then Randy tells how his last date ended when his dance partner fell on her face and he had to spend hours driving her to the emergency room with a broken face. Chad then decides that dating girls isn’t worth the effort. He discovers suddenly that he is falling for Randy and immediately flops over, unable to struggle back onto his feet. The disgusted Randy rebukes him for “crossing a line” in their friendship, only to realize he is falling for Chad. The play closes on their struggles to crawl together on their bellies for an initial embrace. Sound stupid? Well, yes, but just watch it acted with po-faced solemnity by Sam Fife and Jared Hussey and try not to laugh.

My favorite of all eight was “Where It Went.” A married couple named Phil (Charles O’Bannion) and Marci (Sherry Kefalas) bicker on the bank of a skating pond as they hunt unsuccessfully for a shoe of Marci’s that disappeared while they were out on the ice. The bickering stops briefly as Marci pauses to wish on a falling star. But it resumes when Phil tries to follow suit on another star and she ridicules him for not knowing it’s actually a planet. “You don’t hear anybody singing, ‘When you wish upon a planet!’” she sneers, but then…

But then I think I’ll leave it there, since it might also become your favorite of these eight delightful and loopy romantic sketches. There’s only one more weekend to catch them. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2.

For me, along with Jewel Theatre’s Guys and Dolls and Western Stage’s The Producers, Almost, Maine was the third Monterey Bay Area stage production in a play-going weekend that was strenuous but totally worth the effort.

That’s set me thinking what a lot of high quality theater we’ve had so far this year. There was penetrating drama like Jewel’s The Price and Seetheatre’s incisive Copenhagen. We’ve had great musicals like Western Stage’s bittersweet Into the Woods. There’s been high comedy in two brilliant adaptations of eighteenth century classics, Western Stage’s The Liar and the Pacific Rep Moll Flanders. All of this in spite of a seeming life struggle for public funding and against deep budget cuts. Or does all that hardship maybe spur an ever deeper commitment to better and better work for an ever-widening audience?