U-M Theater and Drama Department invites you to visit 'Almost, Maine'
Photo by Peter Smith Photography
“I’ve been doing classic plays pretty consistently, so I wanted to do a more contemporary play,” said director Jerry Schwiebert, who directed “The Crucible” and “Our Town” at U-M in recent years. “I wanted to do a comedy, and ‘Almost, Maine’ is a wonderful vehicle for an actor training program. There are parts for 19 people, and unlike most shows, the parts are evenly distributed. It’s a wonderful show with a lot of audience appeal.”
The show consists of 9 vignettes that run the gamut of romantic experience: the initial spark, heartbreak, falling in love, breaking up, the joys of discovering you’re meant for each other, and finding out that you’re not.
“What this is like is—there was a whole film genre that was popular for a while that did this same kind of thing,” said Schwiebert. “You watch one scene, and then the camera pans up into the cosmos and comes down in another part of town. That’s what (‘Almost, Maine’) comes out of. The trick to the show, of course, is that you have a bunch of scene changes. But if you can do those in such a way that it thematically ties together, then that sort of changes things a bit.”“Almost, Maine” premiered in 2004 in Maine—where Cariani (an actor who has starred in "Law & Order" and "Numb3rs") grew up—and was a huge hit before being transfered to Off-Broadway in 2006, where it had a more disappointing, month-long run. Even so, theaters around the world, as well as high school and community theater groups, have picked up the show and run with it, to the point that "Almost, Maine" outstripped "Our Town" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in the number of amateur productions produced in a year.
One reason the show has likely appealed to a broad range of companies is that while it can be performed with just four actors, it can also be performed with up to 19 actors.
Schwiebert has chosen the latter path. “It changes the audience experience if, when an actor’s out of the show for a little while, and he comes back as another character, then it’s, ‘Oh, that actor’s playing that part now,’” said Schwiebert. “But when the actors each have individual roles, they become more of a community of people, by my way of thinking.”
U-M grad Miriam Shor was one of the four actors in the 2006 Off-Broadway production, which made it seem, to Schwiebert, that “the stars were aligning” for a U-M production. But what made this modest, collage-style show such a hit in the last few years?
“Because when you see these individual scenes, you can’t help but see yourself in them,” said Schwiebert. “What attracted me to this was similar to what attracted me to ‘Our Town’—not that I’m necessarily comparing the two plays, but there’s an element of humanness in both. If you listen to the play four hours a night, six days a week, like I’ve been doing lately, you hear these lines, and you see yourself in that situation. Maybe in slightly different circumstances, but - there’s a scene between a husband and a wife who are having difficulties, and one person watching it said, ‘I’ve been there.’ So I think that’s what it is.”
Plus, visitors to “Almost, Maine” just might experience a little magic.
“It’s a world where love can be put in bags,” said Schwiebert. “You have to accept that, and you can’t comment on it. It just has to be how it is.”