Peggy Sue Dunigan
Review

The Rep’s Almost, Maine

By - Jan 21st, 2010 02:27 pm
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The Northern Lights and the brightest stars in a New England sky warm the winter night of  John Cariani’s Almost, Maine, The Rep’s first Stiemke Theater show of the new year.

Steve Haggard and Gerard Neugent in Almost, Maine. Photo by Jay Westhauser.

Steve Haggard and Gerard Neugent in Almost, Maine. Photo by Jay Westhauser.

Cariani based his nine vignettes, set in the fictional northern Maine town of Almost, on recollections of scenes from his home state. In this show, love’s many facets come wrapped in long-striped scarves, wool coats and fuzzy mittens. The conceit is that the 19 different characters and nine different events occur over the course of one cold, clear night, as practical rural people experience the mysterious upheavals of heartbreak or heartstrings that zing happily.

The show seems lighthearted, at first, and it does offer a lot of laughs. But as the vignettes unfold, the deft comedy becomes more like punctuation to an overriding pathos. Rep company members Gerard Neugent and Deborah Staples and guest actors Elizabeth Ledo and Steve Haggard, who play all the parts, balance the comedy and pathos well. In a scene titled “They Fell,” Haggard and Neugent create a Charlie Chaplin style of physical comedy that portrays “falling in love,” yet still conveys the emotional sensitivity.

Elizabeth Ledo and Gerard Neugent in Almost, Maine. Photo by Jay Westhauser.

Elizabeth Ledo and Gerard Neugent in Almost, Maine. Photo by Jay Westhauser.

In “Seeing the Thing,” Ledo and Neugent inhabit Rhonda and Dave when they strip to their skivvies while casting off the literal and metaphorical weight of their Arctic Cat and Polaris snowmobile suits. The couple marvels at the miracle of romance blooming after 11 years of trusted friendship.

Cariani’s ability to portray these heartfelt, complicated emotions through the eyes and voices of hardworking individuals far from city lights heightens the drama in the individual vignettes. Director Laura Gordon fulfills the premise through understatement and restraint. She does not force the humor; she allows it to flow. Music-assisted transitions from one vignette to another are fluid and seamless.

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents Almost, Maine at the Stiemke Theater until Feb. 7. For information or tickets call: 414.224.9490.

Categories: Theater

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