Published February 17, 2019 | By Adrienne Proctor
The Pollard Theatre’s Valentine season play Almost, Maine is a love story in nine parts, featuring four actors who each portray several characters. Almost is a township that isn’t quite a town, and the citizens there are very nearly finding love on a snowy winter night. Though charming and simple, the challenge for the story is rather complex.
The actors must portray four or five characters each, all of whom are only in one scene. The characters are mentioned again in subsequent vignettes, but never appear on stage after the vignette ends. Every time a scene goes dark, the actors enter again as new people. This means that each actor has only one chance to convey the entire story of their character in that moment. The actors must also find a way to connect with each other, so together they can make the audience understand the past, watch the present, and imagine the future for the couples featured in that scene. This cast of skilled, experienced actors does just that.
Renee Krapff and Jared Blount begin the play as a young pair of sweethearts sitting on a park bench under the Northern lights. From that bench sparks the magical evening to come, one which guarantees that the people in Almost will never be the same.
Krapff is sweet and pure as Ginette in the prologue scene. Next, she’s heartbreaking as the widow looking for closure and a little help picking up the pieces in “Her Heart”. Then she’s the kind, unwitting ice-breaker between two ex-lovers who cross paths in “Sad and Glad”. Act I ends with “Getting it Back”, where she’s the long-suffering, but no longer having it, ex-girlfriend. Act II features Krapff as Hope in “Story of Hope”. Returning to Almost, Hope finds the life she left has gone on without her in unexpected ways. Each character is distinct and Krapff makes them all unique. A wide range of life experiences accompanies the five characters. From falling apart as Glory to perfectly poised as Hope, Krapff shows the depth, humor and heart of each one.
Blount is Pete in the prologue, followed by Steve in “This Hurts”, Lendall in “Getting It Back”, Randy in “They Fell”, and Danny in “Story of Hope”. Blount’s professionalism conveys the full experience of love and loss. He’s reluctantly in love, stubbornly resilient, devastated yet hopeful, innocent and seasoned. His characters are diverse and honest. Blount and Krapff have lovely chemistry together, with an ease of familiarity and friendship.
Timothy Stewart is East in “Her Heart” alongside Krapff, Jimmy in “Sad and Glad”, Chad in “They Fell” next to Blount, Phil in “Where It Went”, and Dave in “Seeing the Thing”. Trying to decide who Stewart interacts with the best is nearly impossible, and that impossibility continues in any attempts not to love him. Stewart is the good guy in every scene, even when he’s not the one you’re siding with. His onstage presence is warm and kind. Stewart is featured in two scenes that were re-written from the original text of the play, a decision made by the playwright in light of the “Me Too” movement and the changing social climate. Stewart is perhaps the ideal actor to handle each scene with humor and sensitivity, while preserving the integrity of the characters in those moments.
Kris Schinske Wolfe is the heartbreaker Sandrine in “Sad and Glad”, the healer Marvylin in “This Hurts”, the heavy-hearted wife in “Where It Went”, and finally the adventurous Rhonda in “Seeing the Thing”. She’s a versatile actress with exemplary comedic timing. Wolfe and Blount together in “This Hurts” make an unlikely pair that ignite warm memories of that painful first love. Wolfe’s characters show the beauty and rawness of starting over, the relief of new realizations and the excitement of a change of heart.
This small ensemble collaborates well together. They don’t outshine, but give each other room to sparkle and take their poignant moments in turn. This collaborative environment is in no small part due to director Matthew Alvin Brown. Brown’s direction is intentional and subtle. He has also exquisitely played up the magical elements of the play. Hearts are broken, and repaired. Love is lost, and found. Bonds are formed, and broken. Stars and shoes and people fall, and spirits are lifted. Simplicity and complexity comingle to create a dazzling, moving play.
So much of theatre, like so much of life, is a flashbang extravaganza of sensory overload and spectacle. As is often the case with The Pollard Theatre, it can be a sigh of relief to sit down to a quiet little play about people who share a past, or a future, and watching them fall in love. Almost, Maine will fill your heart in all the right places. Right where you’re missing a bit of romance, or simplicity, or human connection. It will make you believe in love and magic all over again.