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Almost, Maine

nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
January 9, 2006

“Bittersweet” is the adjective one might use to describe the guitar-strummed chords which open John Cariani’s new play Almost, Maine, and which bring to mind the hours I have waited on hold to speak to a customer service representative at my bank, or any other corporation where “the right relationship is everything.” In fact, watching this series of vignettes about love I had to put on hold my emotional intelligence, my artistic integrity, and any desire I might have for personal growth and self-knowledge, as I was relentlessly reassured that the right relationship IS, INDEED, everything.

I don’t expect everyone will regard this new romantic comedy’s oversimplification of the human heart as an act of violence—a frantic beating down of the fears and anxieties that Theatre was created to help us manage and understand. While the auditorium was not quaking with laughter, it was quivering with the resonance of “awwww’s” and “ohhhh’s” when the broken heart that a girl carries around in a paper bag was fixed by a mysterious but loveable “repairman,” or when the boy with no nerve endings learned to feel pain after being kissed by (read: instantly falling in love with) the emotionally-turbulent woman in the laundromat.

I confess I only witnessed the first five of the eleven play-ettes that make up the evening, but aside from my conclusion that all in all, Almost, Maine is nearly as emotionally-probing as a porn flick and just about as cute as Shirley Temple on ecstasy, I did find some redeemable qualities. Among said redeeming qualities is Miriam Shor, who forgoes the “heartwarming” for a sort of quizzical factualness, an air of not-taking-everything-at-face-value. By resisting the sentimental undertow, her characterizations are genuinely funny and moving in subtle ways the playwright did not seem to intend. Also quite watchable are Justin Hagan and Finnerty Steeves who both have moments of genuine emotional ambiguity in spite of the play’s desperate attempt to ward off such complexities. Todd Cerveris, unfortunately, bear-hugs the glib tone of Cariani’s writing and can be sometimes too “likeable” to watch.

Perhaps I should have started off by asking why this play is being produced in New York in 2006? Why, when there are plenty of Hollywood film-products that espouse the redemptive myth of relationships (soulmates, wedding rings, Mr. and Mrs. Right), do we pay sometimes ten-times the price of a movie to see such pageants performed live? How in need are we of reassurances, escapes—how intolerable for us is the uncertainty of human relationships?

The Times reported this week that more than one in every eight New Yorkers has diabetes: is this Luden’s cough drop of a play the kind of medicine we should be taking?