Review: Almost, Maine

Touching vignettes of love under the Northern Lights from East West

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Director David Mats Johansson

Cast Owen Bell, Aaron Garcia, Michelle Hoffman, Fern Lim, Tom Szyszko and Awesta Zarif

 

For their first show of 2014, English-language amateur drama company East West Theatre present John Cariani’s Off-Broadway play Almost, Maine, about love of all kinds, on one winter Friday night under the Northern Lights.

 

Consisting of nine snapshots of almost-love stories, Almost, Maine is set ‘far away from things’, in the titular tiny community on the northern-most tip of New England, and is as much a story about the beauty and quirks of small town life here as it is of the characters on stage.

 

Throughout the 90-minute production we see touching, sometimes sad, but quite often laugh-out-loud funny renditions of awkward dates, chance encounters with strangers, meetings of old flames and bickering married couples, all through Cariani’s slightly absurd gaze.

 

There’s Gayle, who tries to give back all the love from her ex partner Lendall with a car full of empty red luggage, while Glory keeps her broken heart with her in a drawstring bag. And perhaps most movingly, there’s Steve, who carries around a reminder list of things he should be afraid of in the world, because he has an inability to feel physical pain, and believes he will never experience love: 'My brother Paul says I have a lot of deficiencies and not many capacities'. 

 

Held at the new Strictly Designers United Space, (now on Fuxing Dong Lu and even smaller than before) staging is cramped, making the beauty of Maine's 'big wide skies' impossible to convey, but the solid ensemble cast of six, who take on 19 different roles across the nine set pieces, are all strong enough to keep our attention away from the very limited sets.

 

This time, the cast also includes some relative newcomers to the East West fold, who all hold their own against some of the more familiar faces. Fern Lim, is a bundle of energy throughout, while Aaron Garcia starts slightly tense but goes on to make for one of the night’s funniest slapstick pieces, physically falling to the floor every time he realises he has fallen in love.

 

Unfortunately it isn’t all perfect. Staging includes the odd addition of song breaks for not overly-romantic pop hits (such as ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’, Rihanna’s slightly depressing ‘We Fell in Love in A Hopeless Place’, and an awkward encouraged sing-a-long of ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ at the end) which are largely unnecessary. While vocally impressive, here they only serve to distract from the touching small-town scenes altogether, and would have perhaps been better served by instrumental breaks.


But this is small distraction from an otherwise charming production that doesn’t fail to have the audience smiling, laughing and rooting for the love in each heartfelt story.

 

Almost, Maine is at Strictly Designers United from Friday 14 - Sunday 16 and Friday 21 - Sunday 23 February. Tickets are 150RMB/advance, 180RMB/door. Email east.west.info@gmail.com for more. See full event details

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