REVIEW: Almost, Maine (The Gift Theatre)

Gift Theatre creates a real charm offensive

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The Gift Theatre presents:

Almost, Maine

 [a special dinner/theatre event]

by John Cariani
directed by Barlag, Belcuore, Blandford, Branham, Dibo, Gawlik, and Jones
featuring: Dan Aho, Burfete, DiNicola, Emmons, Jim Farruggio, Ed Flynn, Aemilia Scott, Justine Serino, and Kyle Zornes
through February 21st
(more info)

review by Paige Listerud

Much about John Cariani’s play, Almost, Maine, mirrors Jules Feiffer’s 1977 play Hold Me!  Both are collections of light, comical sketches regarding the uncertainties of the human heart. The essential difference between them is that the poignant neuroticism of Feiffer’s work grounds itself in the daily struggles of urban—okay, New York City—existence, while John Cariani situates his characters in the benignly rural and utterly imaginary location of Almost, Maine.

securedownload So, Fieffer’s characters fret, not only over their past or latest or lack of personal relationships, but also the political and social uneasiness of their times. By contrast, Cariani’s small town residents exist far, far, far away; not just from anything resembling everyday concerns—quite a thing to think about in a play emerging from 2004—but also reality itself. All the struggles of falling in and out of love dominate the minds of Almost’s inhabitants as if there were nothing else going on in the world. Moreover, the play steps further from reality in the literal use of sight gags based on our clichéd idioms about love.

All of which would be a treacly mess in less proficient hands. But Gift Theatre Company’s numerous directors and actors demonstrate a delicate, persistent care for the material, eliciting every critical ounce of human sympathy from the moment. The pain of abandonment or loss receives the wry and gentle touch called for by the text. Humor is almost born, not from the lines, but in the space between the lines as characters contend with what direction to go in the pursuit of romance. In the process, Capriani’s deeper wit about the precariousness of creating or preserving love shines through. It’s a magical place, Almost, Maine—but magical places can be as dangerous as the real ones. Almost is fraught with the possibility of losing one’s big chance at love, even when it is staring you in the face.

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Since the play has such a short run—and only for benefit purposes–GTC hadn’t planned to have it reviewed. Too bad, they’re getting a good review anyway. At the very least, Almost, Maine is a real charm offensive, a solid showcase for cast and crew. Plus, if it’s perfectly timed to be “date theater” for the masses this Valentine’s Day, at least it’s a work about love that both is and is not about the happy ending.

 

Rating: ★★★

 


THE DINNER:

A four course Northeastern Seafood Dinner For Two @

The Gale Street Inn

  • Crabcake Appetizer
  • New England Chowder
  • Lobster And Mussel Clam Bake For Two
  • Cranberry Cheesecake

Production and dinner are only available as a coupled event:

“The Seafood Duet”
A Very Special Event Generously Sponsored by The Gale Street Inn
To Benefit The Gift Theatre Company

Dinner For Two at Gale Street Inn + Tickets for Two to The Gift = $75.

A Value of $60 for Your Meal + A Value of $50 for Your Tickets = Sweet!
Tax, Tip, Beverage Not Included.
A Non-Seafood Substitute Menu Will Be Available Upon Request.
Sorry, No Refunds.  Exchanges Subject to Seating Availability.

Please give yourselves plenty of time to savor and enjoy your meal before the show! Patrons also enjoy the freedom to park their car in Gale Street’s lot!

For Evening Performances:
Please plan on being seated at Gale Street by 6:00pm and no later than 6:30pm.

For Matinee Performances:
Dinner served after the show starting around 4:30pm.
Before the show, please plan on being seated by 1:00pm.

As a courtesy to you, the audience, and the actors, there is no late seating at The Gift.

For tickets call (773) 283-7071, or
BUY ONLINE!
View Reservation Policies

 

Review: Artistic Home’s “Days to Come”

  The Artistic Home Shows Weaknesses, Not Strengths, of Days To Come

 

DTC02_Firth after fight

The Artistic Home presents:

Days To Come

by Lillian Hellman
directed by Kathy Scambiatterra
thru November 29th (buy tickets)

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

If you believe, as the Greeks did, that man is at the mercy of the gods, then you write tragedy. The end is inevitable from the beginning. But if you believe that man can solve his own problems and is at nobody’s mercy, then you will probably write melodrama.         — Lillian Hellman

DTC06_Wilke and Easter Is it possible to be too reverential while executing a particular work? True, Days To Come was written by the larger-than-life Lillian Hellman. In it, tragic things happen, lives are irreparably damaged, and the play is full of social import. All the same it is still a melodrama, not a tragedy. One’s impression upon seeing it onstage now at The Artistic Home is that director Kathy Scambiatterra has seriously mistaken one for the other.

This is not to write off Days To Come as a lesser Hellman work and I hope no one reads my use of “melodrama” in any pejorative way. Melodrama is an extremely versatile, complex, and enduring genre. One for which, as the above quotation shows, Hellman had immense respect. Most of all, more often than not, melodrama is intensely personal. In the end, Days To Come is about the very personal costs of falling for fast, slipshod, and cutthroat solutions to both personal and larger social problems.

Artistic Home’s production succeeds most when it fulfills the melodramatic mode of the play—as it does in those scenes centering on the strikebreakers/thugs hired by the Rodman family to disrupt the ongoing strike at their factory. Scenes where Mossie (Eustace Allen) and Joe (Jeremy Glickstein) play cards while they “guard” the Rodman house build with crackling intensity; while Wilke (Gerard Jamroz) their boss oozes criminality out of every pore. Jamroz absolutely shines in this role—coy, sleazy, and unctuous when he needs to be; pouring on coarse brutality when it serves. His performance almost steals the play.

In fact, Hellman’s criminals seem to come from the pen of her lifetime partner, Dashiell Hammet. But then, they had been together for five years by the time Days To Come premiered.

DTC04_Julie and Henry DTC03_Julie and Andy

In stark contrast, Scambiaterra chooses to keep the rest of her cast buttoned down until the final scene. Sadly, what goes missing is a sense of history between all characters and a strong ensemble sensibility between cast members. Plus, direction during the first act often seems as stilted as some of the dialogue; the actors often look like chess pieces moved around upon a board than people inhabiting a living room.

Patrick Raynor as Tom Firth, the working class best friend of Andrew Rodman (Joe McCauley), brings refreshing intensity upon his entrance into the family hothouse environment. Tim Patrick Miller, as the labor organizer Jim Whalen, brings a nice touch of Humphrey Bogart toughness to his role, even if some lines bring him dangerously close to sounding like a pompous white knight.

Once the strike devolves into violence, Scambiaterra’s direction finally unleashes the cast in a big family blow-up, a dramatic impact lessened by the lack of any reasonable foreshadowing. Still, the biggest, most enjoyable scene-stealer is Justine Serino as Cora, venting her jealous rage at philandering sister-in-law Julie (Leavey Ballou).

It’s here Joe McCauley’s role as the family scion, Andrew Rodman, finally comes into its own—and it’s a palpable relief when it does. His character’s trajectory veers the closest to tragedy. What is not clear is whether, at the start of the play, he realized that he could lose the town that he loved the most through his own passivity. If Hellman’s writing does not make that clear, then the actor must make that choice—as if the whole world of this play depends upon it.

Rating: ★★½

 

DTC01_Whalen waiting for pick-up DTC05_Julie and Whalen

 

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