Love is everywhere in Almost Maine, a remarkable romantic comedy getting a Valentine’s season production at Asheville Community Theater’s 35below space.
Or maybe it’s almost love. Or love that never really was.
Almost Maine by John Cariani has become a huge hit on stage, and it’s no wonder. These are realistic characters struggling with what is, and isn’t, romance. Much of this is played as comedy, but there’s a serious dramatic thread that runs through these nine scenes. It’s a show for everyone who has been in love or wants to be in love. Or has never figured out love.
Director and producer Reeni Lindblom Dowd found four very sharp performers to pull this off: Ellen Soderberg, Dylan Murray, Heather Nicole Bronson and John O’Nell. In many productions, one or two players break out to steal the show, but all four of these performers are equal in their talents. They all play multiple characters, sometimes exiting the stage and returning in the next segment as someone entirely different. They are always believable.
The scenes all take place on the same bitter cold Friday night in the tiny community of Almost, Me. The story opens and closes with a short prologue and epilogue and a young man and woman on a bench, struggling with their relationship. They quickly exit and are followed by the primary scenes, each touching on a different topic.
In “Her Heart,” a free spirit wanders onto the front yard of a repairman supposedly in search of the Northern Lights — but it’s obvious she needs some mending.
“Sad and Glad” deals with a couple long ago split up, who encounter each other in a bar, where he’s eager to set things right, but she’s not. “This Hurts” has comedy with two strangers dealing with pain in a laundry room. In “Getting It Back,” a couple who have seemingly fallen out of love exchange parcels that contain the feeling they once had for each other.
The second act opens with one of the show’s more striking segments, “They Fell,” in which two dudes, both unable to understand women, are drawn to each other.
“Where It Went” offers searing, powerful drama between a couple whose relationship has broken, perhaps far beyond repair. It’s just a stunning bit of acting.
“Story of Hope” has its share of drama too, with a young woman traveling hundreds of miles to reunite with an old lover, only to discover that too much time has passed between them.
The play ends with “Seeing the Thing,” a segment that many may personally understand, and a guy long hoping to get more from a female friend than she’s been willing or able to offer. And when you learn why, it’s the show’s biggest surprise moment.
Cariani offers realistic life moments, along with hope, hurt and in some cases, happiness too. Almost Maine is one of those shows that stick with you, long after leaving the theater.
WHAT: Almost Maine
WHERE: 35below, 35 E. Walnut St.
WHEN: Through Feb. 19, Fridays-Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. $15. asheviletheatre.org