Almost Maine review: Mediations on love and its transmutable forms
Prem Dosanjh reviews...
Set in the fictional town of ‘Almost’, John Cariani’s two act play is comprised of nine separate duologues, all exploring the heterogenous forms love can take. Love, intimacy, and the ways humans navigate their relationships are central to the narrative of Leeds University Theatre Group’s version. Directors Julia Brookes, Aaron Garland and Jessica Payne offer the audience musings on love that are at times poignant and at others hilarious.
The surreal, otherworldly quality of the play is immediately discernible from the use of staging and lighting. Endowed with ambient lighting and hanging stars, the Pyramid Theatre is transformed into Cariani’s imaginary ‘Almost’. A striking blue sign draws the immediate attention of the audience and sports the message ‘Almost, Maine where love is [blank space]. The blank space here functions as a gap for a new word to complete this sentence each time a new duologue is introduced. Throughout the play love is: ‘new’, ‘a choice’, ‘staying put’, ‘unspoken’, ‘patience’, ‘daring’, ‘changing’, ‘strange’, and ‘moving on’.
This broad range of perspectives on love is aptly reflected in the array of ruminations presented in each unique duologue. Love does indeed take on all these contrasting forms throughout the course of the duologues. The play is underscored by themes of connection, hope and reconciliation that run throughout the narrative in the prologue, interlogue and epilogue. These scenes feature the only reoccurring characters and detail the story of couple Pete and Ginette, who first separate in the prologue, leaving Pete alone and waiting in the interlogue. However, it is then revealed, as the pair reunite in the epilogue, that Ginette has in fact walked around the world in order to get closer to Pete.
The individual duologues are similarly allegorical in their explorations of love. Love is ‘new’ in a scene that depicts a man who can’t feel pain; ‘daring’ in a scene where two friends metaphorically and literally begin to fall for each other and ‘changing’ in a scene in which a couple question their love from each other while roller skating on their anniversary. The privileging of physical comedy is highly effective in these scenes. Moments such as Steve, who can’t feel pain, being hit on the head repeatedly by downstairs neighbour Marvelyn’s ironing board manage are a perfect example of the play’s ability to hold a somehow simultaneously comedic and poignant quality.
Love is also explored through the lens of loss, in the scenes of love as ‘unspoken’, ‘staying put’ and ‘moving on’. Particularly moving is the scene of ‘moving on’ in which character Hope goes looking for her old boyfriend Daniel. Upon her arrival at his house, Hope is unable to recognise Daniel, who has changed so drastically in appearance due to the hope he lost while waiting for her to return. Similar sentiments are explored in the duologue in which love is ‘staying put’, in which exes Jimmy and Sandrine run into each at a bar. Sandrine tells Jimmy she is getting married while he reveals he was left devastated after Sandrine left him. However, the comedic comes out in full force when he confesses he attempted to tattoo the word ‘villain’ on his arm post break-up, only to reveal to the audience it has in actuality been misspelt as ‘villian’. Here and throughout sad topics mix effectively with wit and elicit big laughs from a receptive audience.
Consistent and captivating performances are delivered from the multi-roled ensemble cast of Helene Jorgensen, Louis Dixon, Imani Fletcher, Jasmine Morgan, Sophie Althorp, Eve Billington, Naomi Poole and Lucas Burnett. Individual performance highlights are virtually impossible, speaking to how well the cast slip in and out of their different roles, with all eighteen characters proving memorable in some way.
The hard work of the directors, cast and producers: Hannah Gardiner-Hill and Evie Cowen is evident in the final product. The dynamic narrative deals confidently with the metaphorical ways in which love’s transformative power manifests in the everyday (or not so every day). The play ends with our guiding blue sign simply sporting a full stop in its blank space. Our final message is as such: Almost, Maine where love is.
Words: Prem Dosanjh
Photo Credit: Abby Swain