By Russ Bickerstaff
As temperatures climb after some of the coldest days of the year, the Boulevard Theatre opens a wintery romantic comedy set in frigid rural Maine. Almost, Maine is a series of short dialogues between eight pairs of people who all have different relationships with love. It’s a pleasant evening in the intimate space of the Boulevard that is well worth going out into the cold to enjoy.
The stage is a deep blue decorated in white. A few evergreens inhabit the tiny space accompanying a huge snowman holding cards that state the title of each short. It’s an interesting effect coming in from the authentic cold of Bay View in February to arrive in the warmth of an artificial winter onstage in the fictional space known as Almost, Maine. It’s explained relatively early on that the name is used to identify a section of the state that never quite gained its own name. In the cold of rural America in the dark of winter, people struggle to make and keep romantic connections through the course of eight different stories.
The opening bit also closes the show. Liz Mistele and Siddhartha Valicharlavenkata play stereotypical young lovers working out a geographical paradox of intimacy. It’s a somewhat clever bit that establishes Mistele as the woman who sets the stage in a variety of different costumes. It also establishes Valicharlavenkata as a pretty solid actor. He last showed up as a waiter in Boulevard’s production of Beyond Therapy this past August, but here he is given the center of the stage and takes to it pretty well. While it’s pretty safe to say that playwright John Cariani probably wasn’t imagining a deep Indian accent mixing in and amongst the locals in rural Maine, Valicharlavenkata has such an engaging presence that it seems natural.
Beth Monhollen also makes quite an impression in a couple of bits about friendship becoming something more intense, first with Valicharlavenkata in Seeing the Thing and then with Kirsten Mulvey in They Fell. Monhollen brings the same sweetness to the stage that she did in Boulevard’s production of Marion Bridge last month.
Love that had been cast away is looked at from a completely different angle in Sad and Glad. Liz Mistele is charming as a woman living in rural Almost who has successfully managed to avoid a man (Ken Dillon) who has a crush on her for a number of years. They have one last conversation in the back of a bar in one of the most interesting bits in the entire program.
Ken Dillon also co-stars in Getting It Back – by far the best bit in the entire program. He and Ericka Wade play a couple at the end of a romance. Both are trying to return the love that the other had given them so they don’t have it burdening them as they move on with things. It’s a clever bit that’s both quite abstract and exceedingly visceral. It’s absurdist comedy that also has a very strong emotional drama to it. Dillon and Wade manage the dichotomy of the piece with poise and balance. It’s the high point of the show. VS
The Boulevard Ensemble’s production of Almost, Maine runs now through the 25. For more info, call 414-744-5757 or visit Boulevard online at www.boulevardtheatre.com.