Love isn't always pretty. Sometimes it's heartbreaking, awkward or even embarrassing. But it's always relatable, and Theatre UCF's production of Almost, Maine drives that home.
Almost, Maine, written by John Cariani, is a touching play consisting of nine vignettes set in the fictional town of Almost, Maine, an unincorporated community that's nearly part of Canada. The scenes all look at love in different ways. Some take unexpected or crushing twists. Others play out exactly how you think they might, despite your best wishes that they don't.
The fictional setting of Almost is conveyed well by the set, designed by professor Vandy Wood. A series of wide, circular portals grow smaller as they reach toward the back of the stage, where a circular screen displaying the sky appears to be suspended in thin air. The lighting, also planned by Wood, casts the stage in a cold, bluish light that makes sense for one of the northernmost of northern towns. The whole setup looks like a wintery wormhole into some ethereal alternate universe.
That universe provides the lens for a tenderly honest look at the difficulties and joys of love. The eight actors, who each play two to three characters over the course of the show, sincerely deliver their performances. Some shows deal with complex issues and emotions like oppression, betrayal or injustice; Almost, Maine looks only at love and its different permutations. The show's scope, which is narrow in its focus on love but broad in its investigation of nine very different relationships, is unique in theater but the performers handled it very well. Director Mark Brotherton and assistant director Tommy Heller have done a marvelous job keeping the vignettes raw and honest while making sure the actors don't try to do too much. The result is a series of performances that never fail to tug at the heart, be it by disarming you or dismaying you.
In the alternate universe that includes Almost, love and affection sometimes become tangible objects or physical actions. For example, in one of the show's most heartfelt scenes, Gayle, played by Elisabeth Christie, and Lendall, played by Aaron Glogowski, argue over who has shown the most love — represented physically on the stage — for the other. This quirk of Almost comes up again in "They Fell," which is undoubtedly the show's most side-splittingly funny scene. In it, the characters, played by Austin Davis and Logan Ayala, complain about their lives before making an unexpected realization. Hilarity ensues.
Wordplay is also abundant within the show. It's used not only for humor but also for making revealing comparisons between each scene and the larger world. This is realized no better than in "Story of Hope," where Hope, played by Alexandra Pica, is named as such to make a larger statement about her actions. Glogowski plays her counterpart, whose life path has been incredibly different than Hope's. The two later make a realization that leads to a soul-crushing end to the vignette.
The other scenes are imbued with similar charm and vision. Some highlights include Austin Davis' boisterous performance in "Sad & Glad," Kaley Pharr's portrayal of Glory in "Her Heart," Josh Whedon's heartfelt Steve in "This Hurts" and Stephanie Cabrera's vivacious Rhonda in "Seeing the Thing."
Overall, Theatre UCF's Almost, Maine is a touching and heartfelt exploration of love, full of anger, romance and regret. Although some moments within the show are unexpected — sometimes shockingly so — the ending will strike you out of your seat with a rapturous case of the feels. If there ever was a show you should see with your significant other, Theatre UCF's intimate and honest production of Almost, Maine would be it.
Almost, Maine runs this weekend through June 11.
Alex Storer is a junior theatre studies major at UCF.
Alex Storer is the Entertainment Editor of the Central Florida Future. You can reach him at AlexanderS@centralfloridafuture.com.