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Almost, Maine at the Blue Moon Theatre Will Give You All the Feels

by Evan Harris


I grew up in Mount Laurel, NJ, and now live in Westville, right on the border of Deptford. My whole life, I have lived in big places with many people. There were over 500 people in my high school class. There were people who I went to school with from kindergarten through high school that I never even met. I always viewed “community” as something you must seek out if it is something you desire. 


But I recently started working in Alloway Township, NJ. A town with a population that is only slightly larger than the total number of students I went to high school with. I’ve never really had the small-town experience, so this has been a bit of a culture shock. A town as small and isolated as Alloway has given me a new perspective on community. A town where everyone does, in fact, know everyone.


I bring this up because I think this experience in Alloway, New Jersey helped me appreciate and better understand Blue Moon Theater’s production of Almost, Maine, directed by Anthony Appel. Almost, Maine is a 2 act play comprised of 8 vignettes that explore, in short, love. But it goes deeper than that. The play seamlessly blends harsh realities, like falling out of love or learning your ex has moved on, with lighthearted and comedic scenes that often dive headfirst into the surreal. 


One such scene involves a woman, Gail, “returning” all the love her boyfriend gave her by hauling dozens of big, soft hearts and littering the stage with all this “love” she no longer desires. Actress Desiree Lara, who played Gail, was a delight to watch onstage. She carried herself with the confidence and skill of a well-seasoned actor. She managed to hit all the comedic beats her characters called for without sacrificing their humanity. No easy feat!


Speaking of actors bringing the laughs, Evan Long’s use of physical comedy made him a highlight of my evening, as I’m sure he was for everyone else in the house, as well. His scene alongside Patrick Walton garnered some of the night's biggest laughs. 


I would be remiss, however, to leave this out, but this scene and another featured some very physical blocking. Blocking that, unfortunately, looked a bit too authentic (in one scene, an actor fell backward off a bench and landed square on his back). I was disappointed to see in the playbill that there was no credit for a fight choreographer. I can’t speak for sure whether there was fight choreography for these scenes or not, but based on what I saw, it did not seem like a fight choreographer was utilized. Unfortunately, when an actor actually gets hit in the head or really falls to the ground, it only does one of two things. At worst, an actor is injured. But even in the best-case scenario, the audience is taken out of the experience of the play because they’re wondering if the actor is okay. 


I thoroughly enjoyed the scene between Nance Reeves and Patrick Connell as the romantic tension they displayed felt truly authentic. You could see hard work and passion the entire cast put into this show. Alair Diremigio and Angela Robb had some very fun comedic moments, but it was their dramatic scene together that truly impressed me. Andrew Fralinger and David Warren had impeccable comedic timing in each of their scenes. Warren was animated and bright while Fralinger excelled at playing the straight man opposite Desiree Lara. Nikoletta Barboni and Tara Lessig put forth completely different performances but were both equally delightful to watch. Barboni played such kind and endearing characters. She ended the show beautifully. And Lessig was an absolute whirlwind of energy. Her performance as Rhonda had the entire house in hysterics. 


A major motif throughout the play was the Northern Lights. I enjoyed the lighting effect used to create this phenomenon. Swirling colored lights would be projected upon the ceiling while the actors were bathed in purple light. The rest of the show was lit with a pale, yellowish light. I do think the show would have benefitted from some varied lighting choices throughout. But for this being Appel’s first time directing and designing lights, I’d say he did an excellent job!


Appel wore many hats during the production of this play. He also designed the set! Truly a renaissance man. A play as surreal and ephemeral as this one doesn’t call for a hyper-realistic. Opting for simple set pieces and a chilly blue backdrop allowed for the focus to stay on the characters and their relationships. I think some of the set changes could have been a little more choreographed but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the show. 


In addition to lending her talents on the stage, Angela Robb was the costume designer for the show. I loved the authenticity on display! The characters in this show were real folk. The costumes reflected that perfectly. 


But what stuck most with me was the passion displayed by all the actors on stage, as well as stage manager Dawn Zaleski and first-time director Anthony Appel. This is what community is all about. This is why we call this crazy thing we love community theatre. It’s about people from all walks of life coming together to do something that matters. To create something. Not for money or fame. But because to create something is a beautiful thing. To put yourself out there for all to see and with every ounce of your vulnerability and strength, say, “Look. I did this. We made this.” There is a magic in that. It’s everything that community should be. I grew up building a community for myself, but in doing so, it wasn’t until I graduated from high school and left my bubble that I realized this “community” I had created for myself was so curated and comfortable that I wasn’t growing into the person I wanted to be. I’m the person I am today because I stepped out of that familiar place and entered a community where I lacked the level of control I was accustomed to. And it was good. So kudos to Mr. Appel and the entire team behind Almost, Maine for reminding us why we love this community we are all part of: the connection, passion, and love that comes with creation.


Almost Maine runs now through February 18th. Tickets can be purchased at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/almost-maine-by-john-cariani-tickets-793383099207 . You don't want to miss it!



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