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by Lauren Yarger
Jess Watkins and Eric Bryant. Photo: Lanny Nagler
By Lauren Yarger
Four actors playing 19 characters in nine stories of people falling in and out of love make up the framework of John Cariani's quirky play ALMOST MAINE at TheaterWorks Hartford.
Amy Saltz ably directs a taut ensemble portraying the tales of love playing out in Almost, a never-officially-incorporated town, in northern Maine. Set against the backdrop of starry nights and the Northern lights (Michael Schweikardt designs the minimalist set; Mary Jo Dondlinger designs the lighting) couples declare love, find each other or discover love has been lost.
Each story has something just a little bizarre incorporated. A woman has a broken heart - literally carried in a paper bag; a guy in a Laundromat is unable to feel anything - literally. He has a medical condition that blocks his sensors. A woman fed up with a guy dragging his heals about marriage decides to break things off and demands the return of all of her love. She gives back what he's given her - actually loaded into a bunch of large red sacs. A guy unexpectedly falls in love - literally, with a big thud on the floor.
You get the idea. To give much more detail about the plot or specifics of some of the performances would be to give away much of the substance of the stories, most of which are pretty short (the whole show is comprised of two 45-minute acts). You really want to experience them yourself.
While a bunch of the plot is out there - after all, Almost is way out there - Cariani combines humor and quick character development to make the stories heartwarming and real in the face of a mystical, almost "Twilight Zone" feel. Subtle connections that link the characters of the town anchor the individual stories which otherwise might seem disjointed.
Harry Nadal's costuming helps the actors make complete transition between characters and an extra touch of having stage crew members make scene changes in cold weather gear ads charm to the production. A sudden cold front with snow flurries in Hartford at the top of the run didn't hurt the atmosphere either.
The play has cool charm, blustery humor and just enough frostbite to keep it from being too sweetly romantic.
ALMOST MAINE runs through March 3; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Weekend matinees at 2:30 pm. Tickets $50; center reserve upgrade $13; student rush $17; Senior Saturday matinees $35. (860) 527-7838; www.theaterworkshartford.org.