We’re never more vulnerable than when we love, for to love someone means exposing ourselves fully. To allow ourselves to be seen. And if we’re lucky, our offering is met with reciprocal feelings through which trust, respect and tender-heartedness flourish.
It’s a lot to ask of us imperfect beings. But we keep trying. Desperate for the connection love brings us despite all the risks.
No wonder then that one of the keenest observers of the human experience, the playwright, is so obsessed with writing about it. We, in turn, lap it up hoping for insight, answers and sometimes just a gooey, gushy, heart-string-pulling laugh at ourselves.
It’s the latter that John Cariani’s 2004 play, Almost Maine delivers on, now onstage in fine form at Mighty Acorn Productions.
If you’re looking for deep dives, intellectual noodling, or provocative notions about love, you’ve come to the wrong show. Almost Maine isn’t all syrupy sweet, but it is a play that should come with a low-level insulin warning for all times we say, “awwww” during the performance.
In a series of short and lightly surreal scenes, Almost Maine tells the story of loosely connected couples in a small remote northern town. Everyone is navigating love’s terrain on the same cold, clear winter evening for the same ten minutes. Short, vignette-like scenes abound.
Some characters are just falling; some are breaking up. A few couples are dealing with romantic aftermaths and others are trying to get back what they once had.
It's love, so naturally, it's complicated. But in this show, elegantly directed on a bare stage by Frances Limoncelli, it's not so complicated that we don't have a few laughs baked into every single skit-like scene.
Add to this the show’s magical realism and it’s hard not to be charmed.
Love given to a partner is stored in red garbage bags, available for return if asked for. Characters become smaller waiting for unanswered love – the hope eating away at them. Falling in love is depicted by actually falling down. Literal final shoes drop from the sky.
The metaphoric moments in the narrative elevate the show from simple fluff to something a little more clever. But just a little.
None of this, however, is the real reason to see the show. Sure it’s a Valentine’s week performance, but you could also happily stay home and watch Love Actually for the 28th time.
The draw here is all about the cast. Some of Houston’s best and, frankly, actors we don’t get to see enough of on stage. There are ten of them playing multiple roles throughout the show and each performer marvels in their own way.
Laura Kaldis may be in charge but we see her crumbling on the inside. Sean Patrick Judge’s unexpected and initially unwanted declarations of love veer from idiosyncratic to hilariously yearning.
Tracy Ahern and Spencer Plachy nimbly show us the lasting hurt of not showing up for love when it knocks on your door.
But the pair we can't take our eyes off of is once again Dan Geist and Callina Anderson (noted as having off-the-charts chemistry when they last appeared together in 2019).
As a couple finally admitting the hots for each other, Anderson and Geist blaze on stage. Anderson as the hard shell finally cracking and Geist, the smitten kitten hoping to playfully pounce on any fault line.
Whatever magic these two actors have onstage together, we’ll take an order to go please and thank you.
By the time the two-hour-plus show concludes, we definitely feel like we've had enough. Enough of love in all its happy and sad iterations. And maybe even enough of the show’s somewhat dated view on men and women in general.
But there’s no denying that we’ve gotten all warm and tingly hanging out with these talented folks for a bit. It’s a lovely Valentine’s gift they’ve given us.
Almost Maine runs until Feb 12 at MATCH, 3400 Main. For more information, visit matchhouston.org. $35.