Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
If you’re looking for somewhere to take a date this Valentine’s Weekend, or somewhere to go to forget you don’t have one, there is no better option on campus than “Almost, Maine,” which is a collection of scenes by John Cariani that is connected by the central theme of love. Performances are in Upper Tarble, on Thursday and Friday at 7 PM, Saturday at 2 and guarantees a really good time this weekend.
The play consists of eight separate love stories occurring roughly simultaneously in an area of Maine that never organized itself enough to gain a township charter (hence ‘Almost’). Each one depicts a relationship between two or more characters that range from budding, thriving, or dying. The real main character of the play is love, and Cariani portrays the pain and exultant happiness that it engenders with incredible skill.
The cast is minute with only 7 actors for 17 roles, but genuine in each part. The actors give a display of remarkable flexibility in playing different position’s in love’s game. Maria Dalini ’09 plays a nervous girl professing her love to an awkward boy (James Robinson ’10) in the first scene, and returns later as a disaffected housewife at the end of a love-broken marriage to an equally lost workaholic (Eric Holzhauer ’10). Christopher Klaniecki ’10 appears as depressed ex of a bride to be (Natalie Bamdad ’11), but proposes to Sara Lipshutz ’11 soon thereafter. The plots verge on the fantastic in most scenes, but it augments, rather than shatters, the realism of the actors’ performances; Isa St. Clair ’11 carries her broken heart around in a paper bag in one scene and I could have sworn that it was really in there. Each actor makes elusive of ephemera, love, feel truly present in the room. And, like master fowlers armed with limed reeds, they catch that fluttering beauty for our sustaining enjoyment.
The play has been in developmental process for a while. Directors Nora Nusbaum ’08 and Katie Bates ’08 discovered “Almost, Maine” before the beginning of the fall semester, when it was performed off-Broadway in Nusbaum’s hometown of New York City. They originally planned to produce it as a fall production the show was so perfect for a St. Valentine’s Day crowd that they couldn’t resist putting it off for an extra month and a half. Bates adds, “There’s a lot of shows at the end of the year. It’s fun to have theater going on at the beginning of the semester too.”
The set is simple, consisting of four or five pieces of furniture. The sparsity seems spacious and allows the acting to project into the audience more directly. “Maine is empty,” says Bates. Almost certainly is, at least, but one piece of the set does resonate more soundly. The white-planked bench “is the focal point of several scenes,” Nusbaum notes, “because that’s where people sit when they’re in love.” The lighting and sound effects are heartwarmingly hokey and fit right in with the language of the play, which is full of the beautiful and warm corniness of first-date jokes and silly nothings whispered to your significant other.
Not every scene has a fairy-tale ending, but for couples, “Almost” offers nourishing stories of blooming love. For single folk it gives that extra jolt of hope we all need this time of year. If you foolishly pride yourself on a heart of stone, you had better leave it in a paper bag at home; “Almost” will crack it open like an overripe watermelon.