When “Almost, Maine” premiered off-Broadway in 2006, it didn’t seem destined to make lasting a impact on the theater world.
“It was panned,” said Sara Logan, who’s directing a new production of “Almost, Maine” for the Players Centre for Performing Arts in Sarasota. “Then high schools started picking it up. It was only then, I think, that the playwright realized the possibilities of the play.”
These days, “Almost, Maine” is one of the most frequently produced plays around the country. It’s highly regarded by audiences, theater professionals and critics alike.
“Everybody’s doing it,” said Donna DeFant, who plays Marvalyn in the Players Centre production. “I’ve talked to people at Theatre Odyssey and other theaters who say it’s their favorite play, and they’ve done it three or four times.”
“Almost, Maine” is the first and most well-known play by John Cariani, who’s best known to most people as forensics expert John Beck on television’s “Law and Order.” The play often is called a romantic comedy, but the emphasis is on romance, not on laughs.
“Almost, Maine” is the first and most well-known play by John Cariani, who’s best known to most people as forensics experts John Beck in “Law and Order.”
It’s structurally unusual in that, instead of following one narrative all the way through, it presents nine vignettes, all of which take place at 9 p.m. on the same evening in a small New England town.
“It’s a moment in time in a small town in New England,” Logan said. “The characters all know each other and the characters in one vignette will refer to characters in another, though they don’t interact.”
Together, the vignettes create a portrait of the town. Logan said.
They’re interconnected in another way.
“The whole play is about love,’’ DeFant said. “Falling in love, losing love, looking for love.”
But the romance is never overdone.
“It’s sweet,” Logan said. “but it’s never saccharine.”
Just as an example, the vignette in which DeFant appears is titled “It Hurts.” Her character Marvalyn lives in a boarding house. She’s downstairs doing her laundry and she meets another resident.
It’s sweet, but it’s never saccharine.
“It’s implied that she has a boyfriend upstairs,” DeFant said. “But she meets this man and she kind of falls for him, but she’s afraid to fall for him.”
Cariani leaves the relationship unresolved, DeFant said, leaving the audience to decide how it developed.
“I like to think it works out for them,” she said.
Another vignette has to do with two men. Although there’s no indication of a sexual relationship between the two, that scene has caused at least one high school to cancel a planned production. Still, “Almost, Maine” was recently listed as the most popular play for high school productions nationwide.