A lightness of touch from Between The Buildings does great justice to playwright John Cariani’s vision.
Thomas Caine and Emily Joy in Almost Maine. Photo: Jack Dixon-Gunn.
American playwright John Cariani’s Almost, Maine is a play that comprises a quirky set of nine scenes that dramatise the vagaries of love, many of which have somewhat startling magical realist elements. The apocryphal town of Almost in Maine seems like a perfect setting to discover the challenges and triumphs of journeys towards (and away from) the realisation of love. The idiosyncratic and eccentric characters who people this town present original insights into love, as well as some very unexpected complications.
The actors in this production in Melbourne, by the Between the Buildings Theatre Company, perform their multiple roles brilliantly. Many of them are very young, and their youthful verve shines through in their performances. They show great versatility by ably inhabiting different characters with vastly different temperaments in quick succession.
This production has been directed by Peter Blackburn, who brings considerable experience and recognition with him. Blackburn most recently directed The Trial of Dorian Gray (Bitten By Productions), which was presented at the 2019 Midsumma Festival in Melbourne. While all the actors are outstanding, some notable performances include those of Taylor Smith-Morvell as a wide-eyed, sheltered boy who cannot feel pain, and as a young man who literally tumbles upon the realisation that he is in love with this best friend; Vivienne Powell as a forlorn lady who returns to Almost nearly twenty years after her departure, only to find that her former admirer hasn’t aged at all since the moment she left him in the throes of his unrequited love; and Vivian Nguyen as an inexperienced and somewhat brusque factory worker who doesn’t quite know what to make of the endearing Jacob Ehlefeldt’s protestations of love. The play has its tense moments too. Timothy Smith and Sophie Muckart very persuasively convey the anger, frustration and disappointment of their characters.
The creative use of a multi-layered space is commendable. The small stage quickly transforms from a campsite into a bar, and then a front porch, quite believably with minimal props. The clever use of winter costume (especially in the last scene, where this becomes quite pivotal) does really transport the audience to a land far away.
The surrealistic and magical realist elements in the play have a provocative quality. The audience is made to grapple with varied symbols and metaphors about love that provoke some interesting thoughts and reflections. (Can love be measured exactly, and, if a relationship falls apart, can we conclusively account for precise quantities of love shared in a farewell transaction?) The actors in this production convey the allegorical and magical realist content of this play very convincingly. Their ability to play with symbols and metaphors while remaining true to the realistic tenor of the stories is quite evident. There is absolutely nothing heavy-handed about the way in which the symbolic content of this play is conveyed. The revelatory moments, the moments of recognition that connect symbol to reality, are handled so well, they blend seamlessly into the narrative. The director and actors bring a lightness of touch to their dramatisation of the uncanny and magical but ultimately ordinary lives of the eccentric people of Almost, Maine, doing great justice to the playwright’s vision.
4 stars out of 5 ★★★★
Between The Buildings Theatre Company
by John Cariani
Cast: Emily Joy, Thomas Caine, Jacob Ehlefeldt, Sophie Muckart, Timothy Smith, Vivian Nguyen, Taylor Smith-Morvell, Ruby Duncan, Vivienne Powell
Director: Peter Blackburn
Producer/dramaturg: Abbie-Lea Hough
11-16 June 2019
Meat Market Stables, North Melbourne