Flying H deconstructs romantic metaphor in Almost, Maine
By Jenny Lower 12/12/2013
In John Cariani’s sweet pastiche of wintry love tales set in a fictional northern town, there are no such things as figures of speech. In the far-flung, surrealistic town of Almost, Maine, metaphors take on hardy form and substance. The earnest residents don’t speak moonily of having their hearts broken; instead they matter-of-factly carry paper bags with shards jangling inside like loose change. They don’t wait for the other shoe to drop, it plummets from the sky, nearly landing them a concussion. No one thinks to see a psychiatrist.
The Flying H Group’s third offering at its new space off Victoria Avenue offers a welcome reprieve from the predictable march of seasonal fare. Almost, Maine, their reprisal of last year’s production, is the Love, Actually of holiday theater — a loose confederation of marginally connected friends and acquaintances finding and losing love in all its odd variations at the coldest time of year. Cariani’s script and this production, under Taylor Kasch’s direction, flirt shamelessly at times with the cutesy. But at its best moments, the actors (mostly students from Kasch’s classes) seem unaware they’re suspended in anything other than a vitally important search for connection.
Playing to the spectrum of available castmates, Kasch makes some unusual casting decisions that work surprisingly well. In one vignette, “Sad and Glad,” he has recast a scene probably intended for 20-somethings with seasoned actors. The unremarkableness of the shift highlights just how universal the themes of rejection and heartache are: Sandrine’s (Peggy Steketee) hilarious and sinking guilt at seeing an ex-lover works just as well whether she is 25 or 55. In another skit, a young woman (Susan Lucas) in a tumultuous relationship encounters an older, unlikely man (Chad Parker), but the characters are so sweetly played, the age difference fades to the background. Kasch and his partner Cynthia Killion have also written in the part of a saucy snow angel (Stephanie Moro), a kind of sub-zero seraph, who acts as emcee.
As to be expected with a cast of students, some scenes feel more polished than others. In the recurring through-line of young lovers sitting on a park bench, we are watching the actors as well as the characters finding their footing. Others feel perfectly in sync. Each half of the 90-minute show ends on a strong note. In “They Fell,” Chad (Chad Parker) and Randy (Antonio Royuela) are two best friends swapping stories over beers until the conversation takes an unusual turn. In “Seeing the Thing,” Rhonda (Sindy McKay) and Dave (Brad Strickland) are besties with outdoorsy tastes, when Dave decides to showcase his artistic side. Both sets of actors prove themselves masters at physical comedy, highlighting the humor inherent in the material alongside the tenderness.
At the performance reviewed, temperatures in Ventura were plunging to unusual lows. Flying H’s storefront location offers snug seating arrangements but limited insulation, so blankets were offered around with coffee for sale. The cast was bundled in winter coats and work boots, fleece jackets and knit scarves. Christmas pines onstage stood bedecked in almost credible cotton flurries.
It was a perfect night, in other words, to imagine peering up at the aurora borealis from an unincorporated patch of Maine wilderness, waiting to fall in love.
Almost Maine, Flying H Group, through Dec. 22, 6368 Bristol Road., Ventura, 901-0005, www.flyinghgroup.com.