ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Zip up your snowsuit, gas up your snowmobile and meet the residents of Almost, Maine, a small New England town you won’t find on any map.
The play “Almost, Maine,” opening on Friday, Dec. 6, at the Vortex Theatre, is a series of vignettes immersing the audience in the complex lives of nine couples beneath the dancing flames of the Northern Lights.
The stories emerged from the pen of Tony Award-nominated actor John Cariani as he wrote his own audition pieces.
The town sits on the northern most edge of Maine, “Almost” within Canada. It boasts a single lumber mill, some potato fields and not much else.
“He wanted to write something that was a love letter to Maine,” director Leslee Richards said.
“It’s not ‘King Lear’,” she continued. “It’s our holiday show. We’re in the middle of an impeachment process. We’re about to start an election year, which will not be fun.
“I wanted to bring something to the audience that was decent, that was sweet, that was set in winter, that wasn’t too Christmas-y, where the Northern Lights are playing across the sky.”
Six actors play 19 characters.
Some are couples. Some are couples acknowledging that they care for one another. Others discover their relationship is not what they had hoped. The vignettes excavate both the sharp thunderclap of love and the scorched earth that sometimes follows.
“Almost, Maine” sits on the same shelf as “Love Actually” and other contemporary romantic comedies.
The play opens with a woman who arrives in town to see the Northern Lights. She props up a tent in the middle of a potato field.
“She wants to say goodbye to her ex-husband,” Richards said. “One of the myths associated with the Northern Lights is they are the torchbearers of people on their way to heaven. Her ex-husband has just died and she wants to say goodbye to him.”
The man who owns the field spots her from a window.
“When they separated, the ex-husband broke her heart,” Richards continued. The potato field owner “is a repairman; he can fix it.”
In 2017-2018, “Almost, Maine” was the most produced play in north American high schools, supplanting Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”