Arts & Culture

'Almost Maine' is first production of Cambria Allied Arts’ season

Clockwise from top left, John Carroll, Jonathan Shadrach, Christina Fountain and Kelli Rodda star in ‘Almost, Maine.’
Clockwise from top left, John Carroll, Jonathan Shadrach, Christina Fountain and Kelli Rodda star in ‘Almost, Maine.’ COURTESY PHOTO

The imaginary town of “Almost, Maine” comes to life in a series of nine quirky short plays about the residents of the small, cold community on a winter Friday night as they deal with love and all its surprises. They find love, lose it, mourn it and celebrate it.

Four actors play 19 roles in loosely connected vignettes that are fueled by dry, straight-faced humor, a bit of pathos and a touch of magic. Like a good short story, each segment builds to a swift conclusion, and after we get into the rhythm of the storytelling it becomes compelling as we anticipate each punch line.

“Almost, Maine,” by John Cariani, who grew up in Maine, is directed by Jill Turnbow, an actor and director with a knack for comedy, especially the kind of dry, inherent humor in this play. Jonathan Shadrach, Christina Fountain, John Carroll and Kelli Rodda are excellent. They all manage to appear serious within off-the-wall, sometimes funny situations, and switch from one role to another with versatility. This is a play that requires perfect timing to create its “serious humor” style. The actors all create characters who are sympathetic, if quirky, folk.

Among the characters’ situations is that of Glory (Rodda) who carries her broken heart in a bag and camps in a man’s yard to see the northern lights, which she believes will hold the spirit of her husband. In another piece, she is Gayle, a woman who delivers bags of “all the love you gave me” to her boyfriend (Shadrach) before announcing that she is breaking up.

The playwright appears to have affection for his characters, especially those who need it most, like Steve, played by Carroll. Steve can’t feel pain, so his brother has made a list of things that could hurt him, like bears, guns, knives and pretty girls. Steve admits that he has “a lot of deficiencies and not many capacities.” A kiss changes his life.

Shadrach has a way of expressing emotion without facial expressions, and wears a sad face in several of the vignettes. He and Carroll play Chad and Randy, best buddies who play a game of who had the “baddest” day, and their stories are funny but somehow touching. Their punch line is a hoot.

Fountain and Carroll clash in the most dramatic story as a couple whose marriage is in crisis. They are good together again in a piece where he gives her a painting, and she doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be. He tells her that she has to “look at it so it doesn’t know you’re looking at it.”

The dialogue is delivered in serious tones, but the words are often quite funny. As the stories are told, the town itself becomes a character, with the local bar, where drinks are free if you’re sad, reappearing in dialogue and everyone bundled up in parkas, furs and ear muffs. The offbeat moments and characters are reminiscent of TV’s “Northern Exposure.” Maybe there is something in those northern lights that makes folks a little loony. There are no bad guys in the play. Everyone, no matter how kooky, is worth caring about.

This is a play that, like its characters and stories, is off the grid of Broadwaystyle theater, and that’s a good thing. It’s refreshing to see new shows on the Central Coast. This is the first production of Cambria’s Allied Arts Season, and a reason to look forward to the upcoming productions.