Barker Playhouse’s Almost, Maine Delights

almostWalking into Barker Playhouse is like visiting an old friend. As the oldest theater in Rhode Island (and arguably the country), you can’t throw a stone in Rhode Island’s theatrical pool and not find someone who hasn’t been a member of this theater club, or seen one of their shows in their 106 seasons. Their season closer, John Cariani’s Almost Maine certainly lives up to the club’s rich tradition of bringing a large group of people together to make a night of enjoyable theater.

When you take a seat, you are greeted with Dan Clement’s set, and one word — well, two actually — jumps out at you; “New England.” From the weathered façade of the clapboard home to the lobster crates (even though as one character points out “we are 200 miles from the coast”) the set screams New England. An added bonus is that the crates are integral to each scene, a common set piece that entwines the members of this small fictional town together. This simplistic and lovely set does the job and Clement should be applauded for his vision.

The evening consists of vignettes of different stages of love from lost love, new love to even the end of love. Every performer, therefore, is able to have their moment to shine. It’s difficult with a cast of 19 performers to mention everyone, so here are some notable highlights.

The show opens on the lovely Linda Succi, playing the hopeless romantic to a tee, and Jack O’Keefe, whose clueless responses are a delight. They set the tone for the night, preparing audiences to experience a night of theater that is well done and polished. David Adams Murphy plays the quintessential Maine-ite in his pajamas, issuing declarations of love. The play takes a different turn with Jad Saab’s touching performance of a man who realizes he wasn’t the one for the girl of his dreams. His feigned enthusiasm for her new life juxtaposed with Kristin Weidel’s discomfort of a tough situation is nothing short of heartbreaking. Stephanie Post’s comedic interruptions as the waitress brings home that New England accent we are all so fond of here in the Northeast. By the time Michael Shallcross and Ashley Moore take the stage, you expect honest performances from this cast, and they don’t disappoint. Shallcross plays Steve, who takes everything quite literally with compassion and honesty.  His performance makes you want to jump out of your seat to envelop him in a hug. Moore’s self realization onstage has you thinking of your own life choices. A beautiful and difficult scene. Later, Kathleen Moore Ambrosini brings an energy onstage as Gayle who is desperately trying to return her boyfriend’s love. Lendall, her boyfriend, is played by one of the evening’s nicest surprises, Charles Sweigert who channels John Malcovich in the production. He meets Moore Ambrosini’s energy beat for beat, and together they create a tender scene.

Watching Carole Collins on stage is always a treat. Your heart breaks for her as she sees the realization of her life choices. Walter Cotter’s matter-of-fact delivery adds much-needed humor to a scene that is both sad and charming at the same time.

Ruth Fagan’s lighting is a challenge for this thrust stage, as it is difficult to light the foot of it, but that does nothing to take away from her beautiful design. One moment we see the stars, the next the Northern lights, the cold glow of moonlit snow, and then are transported to the local watering hole “The Moose Paddy.”  Fagan’s lights illuminated Maine in a way that was striking, but not distracting.

Roger Lemelin has directed a diversely talented cast and is proof of the Player’s legacy as he first trod onto the Players’ stage 20 years ago. It’s a tribute to this club that people do return to it. Lemelin had the task of directing many veterans of the stage, people who returned from a hiatus onstage, and newcomers. A daunting task that he seems to do without breaking a sweat.

Almost Maine is the Player’s season closer and oh, what a closer it is. It is billed as a romantic comedy, but it shouldn’t be dismissed as fluff. At times you will laugh, smile and tear up as the stories develop in front of you. Stories that show you life and love in a small town that could be anywhere, USA.  Ticket prices can be applied to a club membership, which includes five shows next season and three parties, which we were told “are quite good.”  The last opportunity to see this fun show is May 15-17. Call Barker Playhouse at 401.273.0590 and mention you saw the review in Motif.