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ALMOST, MAINE opened on Valentine’s Day and makes a perfect “date night” for couples old and young

THE BASICS:  ALMOST, MAINE – a play in 9 vignettes by John Cariani, presented by Road Less Traveled Productions, directed by Doug Weyand, starring Eve Everette, John Kreuzer, Nicholas Lama, and Wendy Hall each taking four or five roles opened on Valentine’s Day, continuing Friday February 15 at 8, and then February 16-24, Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 2 at Shea’s 710 Theatre, 710 Main Street at Tupper (1-800-745-3000). Runtime: 2-1/4 hours with one 15-minute intermission (full service bar in spacious well-appointed lounge).

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  According to Road Less Traveled’s website, this is of the most-produced plays in the United States and it’s easy to see why, given the charm and love for humanity and our foibles that carries it along. ALMOST, MAINE is a series of vignettes (one of which opens and later closes the play) about love in all forms in a snow-covered town that almost got around to incorporating. Four actors play the 20 residents of the fictional town that’s a little like “A Prairie Home Companion’s” Lake Woebegone, except we’re under the Northern Lights and instead of the “Side Track Tap” we have the “Moose Paddy Pub,” snowmobiling, and when folks “go south for the winter” they head to Vermont.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: These days, when I attend a wedding, I’m always amused when the couple chooses to read from Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 because I think “They’re so young, what do they really know?” However, if you want to know what this play, ALMOST, MAINE is about, well, here’s a roadmap:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Yes, in some of the vignettes (well, actually all of them) there is a mis-understanding, but the way each mis-understanding gets worked out is what makes these little stories so engaging, almost as if each were a little sermonette on one aspect of Saint Paul. Not that we are in church, at all, mind you. These residents drink lots of beer, get frisky with one another, and sometimes reveal what’s under all that long underwear.

These residents drink lots of beer, get frisky with one another, and sometimes reveal what’s under all that long underwear.

The set by Lynne Koscielniak, having impressed us mightily with her recent fantasy small-stage set design for THE ILLUSION, demonstrates how to design for the rather large 710 stage with her truly stunning “Northern Lights” set. By the way, after each performance, you are invited to come up on stage and have your photo taken (with your smartphone) on the snowscape bench (many couples took advantage of that)!

After each performance, you are invited to come up on stage and have your photo taken (with your smartphone) on the snowscape bench.

The direction by Doug Weyand was sure, even handed, and the physical comedy was a highlight of the evening. Equally impressive was the ability of each actor to immediately “get into” the next vignette’s character, not to mention quickly getting into the next costume, each one cleverly designed by Maura Price. I’m not sure who all was backstage, but bravo for getting those actors in and out of costume. I’m assuming Production Stage manager Lucas Lloyd, Production Coordinator Hasheen Deberry, and Props Master Emily Powrie.

On opening night, there were many teenagers in the audience, and I know that some high schools have put this play on, so I would encourage families to attend.

UP NEXT: At Shea’s 710: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET (March 14-24) followed by FUN HOME (May 9-19). At Road Less Traveled’s home base at 456 Main, it’s BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY (March 8-31) and THE UNDENIABLE SOUND OF RIGHT NOW (April 26-May 19). At the Shea’s Smith Theater Second Generation is putting on ANGELS IN AMERICA: MILLENNIIUM APPROACHES. And, at Shea’s Performing Arts Center it’s MISS SAIGON (February 26-March 3), followed by RENT, and then DEAR EVAN HANSEN.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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