This semester, Eastern’s theatre department performed “Almost, Maine,” a modern play composed of a series of short scenes that take place at the same moment in time, in the same town, with different characters. It’s a clever concept, and the cast and crew of the play executed it beautifully. However, I ultimately found that my sentiments matched the tagline of the play: “It’s love. But not quite.”
There are a million things to love about the play. First of all, the cast is wonderful. There are only twelve cast members, and many of them are double-cast, since there are almost no repeat characters between scenes. They all do a wonderful job making each character unique and interesting, and despite depicting a range of characters of different ages and backgrounds, each one feels very authentic. The costumes help with this. They’re not complicated affairs, but they’re clever. You can tell that Hope has come from out of town as soon as she walks on stage, for example, by her heeled boots and too-light coat.
The set is also gorgeous. As soon as you walk in, you know you’ll be in for a treat. Edison bulbs are strung across the majority of the ceiling, and they twinkle and glow throughout much of the play, creating a charming atmosphere. “You just want to curl up and read a book there,” stage director Anna Davis said. The creation of the Northern Lights is also impressive, and the set pieces on stage are simple and artful, giving the audience just enough to guide them while avoiding overwhelming the actors.
However, I couldn’t make myself love the story, despite the amazing job that the cast and crew did with it. The story incorporates fabulism, a literary technique where magic and strange happenings are part of the everyday world we live in; it’s comparable to magical realism, but some experts argue that magical realism can only be used to describe postcolonial narratives. Fabulism/magical realism is one of my favorite genres, but I think this play gives it a bad name. The fabulism elements were gimmicky and overly self-referential; when one character realizes she’s fallen in love with another, for example, she quite literally falls over, and then states that she’s fallen because she fell in love. Likewise, another character carries around her broken heart in a bag. Well-crafted magical realism and fabulism feels natural to the world; the audience should believe that this is the way the world was meant to be. There was nothing necessary or beautiful about the fabulist elements in this play, and I found it hard to suspend my disbelief.
Another issue with the story was a pitfall of one of the best elements of the play: the vignette style. Because the scenes were so short, some of them worked better than others. I anticipate that people will have different scenes that worked and that didn’t, but there were a couple scenes where I didn’t feel like I had enough information to get emotionally involved with the characters. The framing device was one such scene: I loved the idea of having one scene that bookends the play, but there simply wasn’t enough there for me to care about whether the characters love each other or not.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed watching the play. There were scenes that were beautifully done—I cried at one scene. The cast and crew did a wonderful job with material that simply missed the mark for me. It was the Eastern theatre department that gave me everything I loved about “Almost, Maine,” and for that, I applaud them.