After seeing this production of Almost, Maine, it’s easy to understand why John Cariani is one of the most watched American playwrights alive today; he turns his back on edgy trends in the post-post-whatever art world and unabashedly celebrates warmth, romance, and humor in ordinary small-town life. In a word, this play believes in innocence. In fact, I walked into Saturday’s performance not knowing the piece and was quickly convinced it had to be 40 years old — until one of the skits took up same-sex romance.
Cariani is perhaps best known for his television role as Julian Beck on Law and Order. But Almost, Maine, his first play, put him on the writer’s map in a big way. Since its world premiere by the Portland Stage Company 10 years ago, the production has enjoyed more than 2,500 stagings. Cariani clearly mined a buried vein of gold in the American imagination, and this Westmont College production did the same for the large audience on closing night.
Almost is a northern Maine town near the Canadian border that’s not quite incorporated in any state municipality. Nine romantic vignettes portray stranded hearts as they confront near misses, near losses, and the limbo of unrequited love. The script indulges exaggerated corniness and puns — which end up being quite funny, for all the intelligence and playfulness of the writing. Powdered snow on the stage, winter wear, and layers of white sheer curtains made for simple but effective scenic design. And the 10 Westmont student actors gave delightful performances, displaying wonderful comic skills and convincing depth of heart.