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“Almost, Maine” At Home Made Theatre is Whimsical Fun

“Almost, Maine,” is a tender evening of short plays filled with whimsy and imagination. It’s about life in a rural community where everyone seems to have a fairy godmother who guides them to the path of true love.

A couple meet; one looks in the other’s eyes and immediately declares he is in love. And even if she doesn’t feel that way, you can be certain she is likely to soon see the light – or in this case the Northern Lights.

Even when woman brings in a multitude of garbage bags filled with the love she gave to the boyfriend with whom she is breaking up, you can be sure the small package of love he returns to her is a solution to their problems.

Perhaps the piece that most defines the philosophy of the entire work is “This Hurts.” It’s a scene in which a man has to understand how to overcome the fear of pain in order to love. Contrasting him is a woman who has to acknowledge her pain in order to fall out of love.

But a word of caution, enjoy “Almost, Maine” for the pleasant and innocent stories of romance rooted in fantasy. Don’t look for anything profound in the material. The play thrives on charm, not deep insights into human behavior. It says what everyone knows – love can be wonderful, but don’t overthink it.

Approach the Home Made Theater production the same way. Enjoy each segment for what it is. Forgive the occasional play that seems overtly sentimental. If every piece isn’t cast to perfection, don’t worry, the next one will be.

Above all, don’t try to connect any dots to make more of the play than it is. These are nine couples, played by six actors, all of whom are dealing with love and life without a roadmap. Just like you and me.

Director Michael McDermott stages the work deftly. It is a special chore because at the Dee Sarno Theater in the Saratoga Arts Center, the production is offered in the round. It not only offers blocking challenges, but it puts the actors sometimes inches from the audience, endangering the protective fourth wall of theater.

To everyone’s credit, the actors work with total focus making unreal people seem real while remaining fictional. It’s the definition of good theater, acting and directing.

However, McDermott and the actors’ greatest achievement is that even though no scene is directly related to another, and except for the prologue and epilogue we never see a character twice, the piece has the feel of an ensemble production. You believe these people all live in the same community, share the same values and have the same hopes and dreams.

Creating several distinctive characters isn’t always easy. Michael C. Mensching wins laughs and the audience’s heart as he creates a truly comic, slow-witted, nice guy who is unlikely to ever get the girl. Problem is – he’s the same guy in every one of his scenes.

Another issue is once an actor makes an impression it’s hard to dispel the image. Bill Geltzeiler is such a talented, funny actor he primes you for laughter whenever he steps on stage. In a later scene with Linda Mizeur, it’s a disappointment when he plays the character perfectly mournful.

To be clear, it’s not his work that’s the problem; Geltzeiler is a versatile performer. It’s the way the audience’s expectation has been set up that makes for the distraction. It might have helped if there were more than two men in the cast of six.

On the topic of versatility, In the case of Joelle Malinowski it’s a pleasure to see her turn from a sexy young woman in “Sad and Glad” to the tough as nails firefighter who’s never been kissed in “Seeing the Thing.”

Toni Anderson-Sommo and Joan Meyer both do vulnerable middle-age well throughout the evening, but their work is elevated in “They Fall.” Vulnerable is still present, but it’s combined with tender made funny with physical humor. Though it must be added that Meyer wields a mean ironing board in “This Hurts” and Anderson-Sommo is touching when in “Her Heart” she reveals how hearts can truly break.

Linda Mizeur is only in one play and does well as a woman who has bad timing as she tries to reconcile with a former lover. However, in “Story of Hope,” the age discrepancy between her and Geltzeiler confuses the reality of the situation.

But reality is not what “Almost, Maine” is about. It’s about love, magic and believing in both. It’s a pleasant way to spend two hours.

“Almost, Maine” by Home Made Theater at Dee Sarno Theatre in the Saratoga Arts Center, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. It plays through Sunday. Proof of vaccination is needed for entrance and masks must be worn inside the building. For tickets and schedule information go to homemadetheater.org

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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