Walking in the whimsy wonderland of ‘Almost, Maine’

Love is in the cold, winter air

Veronica Straight-Lingo and Erik Wilkins in Almost, Maine

Love. It’s life’s sweetest reward. If you let it flow, it floats back to you. Love can be exciting. It can be new. And if you get on board with love, it might even be expecting you. You could be the captain of your own ship or just someone else’s gopher. Your broken heart might need a doctor or maybe some time spent bending the ear of a sympathetic bartender. Whatever course or direction romance sets you upon, be the seas calm or rough, there’s nothing in the world quite like love.

All nautical allusions and ’70s TV show homages aside, it was a cold winter’s eve with the promise of snow in the air when I walked into the Mary Miller Theater for a performance of Almost, Maine, a play that takes place on a cold winter’s eve in a fictitious small town in America’s northeastern-most state. Like seeing a spectacular Christmas movie and stepping out of the theater into a snowstorm, the meteorological scene was set for a magical night of entertainment.

The Theater Company of Lafayette is a perennial winner of my Doing More With Less award. A tiny theater company with a tiny budget working out of a tiny theater, TCL manages time after time to mount sincere and heartfelt productions. TCL’s nearly annual Halloween tradition Twilight Zone parodies are calendared by many other can’t-miss events. With Almost, Maine, TCL proves it understands the peaks and valleys of love as well as it does those of suspense and satire.

Written by John Cariani, who played Julian Beck on Law & Order and the hilarious “autistic reporter” Michael Falk on the much less long-lived Onion News Network, Almost, Maine presents nine vignettes about the comic and tragic nature of love. Each of the nine short tales takes place at 9 o’clock on a Friday night in mid-winter Maine.

The first story, which unfolds throughout the play and acts as a framing device, is the simplest and sweetest. It is the story of Pete (Garrett Salter) and Ginette (Kate Moore) taking their first, tentative steps toward love. It is so slight that some people might deem it a one-note trifle, but I found it to be the most touching and effective segment of the show.

After Pete and Ginette we meet many more denizens of Almost. In a typical romcom setup with an unexpected payoff, a woman (Katherine Myers) jumps on a plane, then takes a 100-mile taxi ride on the spur of the moment to find the man she left behind years before (Bill Graham). At the local bar, a sad sack’s (Erik Wilkins) random run-in with his ex leads to even more random and humorous results. A guy who can’t feel pain (Garrett Salter) meets a woman who knows all too much about it (Veronica Straight-Lingo).

A hiker hoping to see the Northern Lights (Heather Woodruff) camps out on a local’s lawn (Jason Boughn) in one of the more complicated stories of the night with, oddly enough, the most tidy, almost groan-inducing ending.

And in a section entitled “Seeing the Thing” that should really be called “Friends Finally Fuck,” rough and tumble Rhonda (Katherine Myers) and her buddy, Dave (Erik Wilkins), leave friendship behind to embark on a new adventure together.

To various degrees, all of the actors acquit themselves well, but one held my rapt attention. In a small role as a waitress in one story and in a much larger role in another, Veronica Straight-Lingo showed herself to be a formidable actress. I would welcome the chance to see her again in the future.

Though a couple of the stories end on down notes, most of Almost, Maine is meant to uplift. The play exudes optimism and hope, and it does so in a way that — though sometimes a bit twee — is never overbearing. I attended with a friend who proudly self-identifies as jaded, and even she had to admit that she enjoyed her visit to Almost, Maine.

Almost, Maine, presented by the Theater Company of Lafayette, plays through March 23 at the Mary Miller Theater. 300 E. Simpson St., Lafayette. Tickets are $10-$16. For tickets or information, call 720-209-2154 or visit www.tclstage.org.

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