by Kristin Walters
The residents of Almost, Maine haven’t gotten organized enough to establish a real town. No one can find them on a map, but they have bars, an ice-skating rink, a bowling alley, clear views of the Northern Lights, and the same relationship troubles as everyone else.
On a bare-bones set in the basement of the Apollo Theater, eight actors play nineteen characters desperately desiring something (or someone) that “makes you feel good and makes sense”. The nine skits in "Almost, Maine" explore the minutes before love sticks or fades away, with a focus on burgeoning and unrequited love rather than the long-lasting kind.
While mostly realistic and relatable, at times the stories transition seamlessly into the surreal. A divorcée carries her broken heart in a paper bag. A dissatisfied girlfriend tries to return to her boyfriend “all the love [he] gave [her]” which happens to fill three red sacks. A man with congenital insensitivity to pain suddenly overcomes it. Two friends literally faint to the floor as they “fall” in love. These impossibilities can come off as obvious, but also incredibly enjoyable.
The language is smart, yet simple, and deftly delivered by the cast with an engaging energy. In particular, director and performer Bob Pantalone fully embraces and projects his mettlesome characters, making them the most memorable of the bunch. And actor Rob Grabowski exercises an impressive controlled freedom over his body that comes in very handy during a slapstick-style scene.
"Almost, Maine" makes no attempt to dispel gender stereotypes, but it does make fun of them, and for every predictable moment there’s three surprising ones. What it lacks in subtlety, it makes up for with laugh-out-loud comedy. It’s heartbreaking and hilarious. It’s love, before it gets organized.