Almost, Maine (Almost Outta Here)
Examination of life’s ‘almost’ moments is a fascinating, very human concept for exploration in a theatrical work. The fact that, in the instance of “Almost, Maine” this can be shared in a two-hander production, makes it a perfect choice to take place as part of theatre’s slow return from COVID-19 closures. And its simultaneous availability as a live streaming option as well as in front of its Toowoomba audience (where it appeared as part of The Empire Theatre’s Homegrown Independent Series), means that its irreverent examination of the extraordinary within ordinary life can really hit home… literally.
The show is structured as a series of 11 vignettes of mostly independent action, focussed around all sorts of almosts, from almost declarations of love to almost reconnections and the loss of love’s long-ago initial spark. Things start strongly in its Prologue scene in which a rugged-up Pete and Ginette explore the distance between them with mind-blowing contemplations about the perception of their proximity to each other, and it is wonderful to see them revisited, with increased closeness, in the epilogue. Then there is ‘Her Heart’, in which recently-widowed Glory arrives in the fictional rural town of Almost, Mayne, hoping the mend her broken heart and see the Northern Lights (which appear in eternally beautiful backdrop at various points throughout the play) from the yard of the accidently-named but not-lobster fisherman East. Both of these scenes, in particular, reveal John Cariani’s quality writing.
Like these, the remaining sometimes bittersweet, separate stories of the nearly 20 residents and visitors in Almost are brought to life by performers Wren Condren and Ashlynn Parigi, who creditably realise the scenes that are usually less ambitiously told by a bigger cast. They ably inhabit the characters’ individual idiosyncrasies with ease, bringing crucial comedic timing to scenes such as Act One’s ‘Getting it Back’ in which a woman literally brings back all the love her partner gave her as part of a break-up.
Throughout its snapshot scenes of old, new and potential loves looking for meaning in their almosts, the show covers all sorts of sentiment and although we may be distanced from its stories in many ways, there is a relatability to their apparently whimsy. This is emphasised by its clever pacing, which sees us sometimes dropping out of stories before their conclusions, which increases audience intrigue and engagement, in sometimes fine balance with frustration. Indeed, there is a universal appeal to its presentation of commonplace human conditions like vulnerability and regret.
The addition of filmed transitions and community contributions about ill-timed love and reflection of what could have been break up the small town tales and like The Good Room works, add unique interest. With or without its submitted stories, however, “Almost, Maine” serves as a light-hearted and youthfully-energetic work that can be both taken at its small-scene face values and contemplated for the emotions of its bigger theme commentary.