Feeling distant and close in ‘Almost, Maine’

Drama’s fall production sets a mystical tone in 11 vignettes


BP Photo by Ezra Fax

IN CHARACTER: Sophomore Donna Grunfeld and junior Noah Mermelstein look to the sky for answers to their marital problems in Almost, Maine.

By Nomi Willis, Staff Writer

Enveloped in an awkward silence, Amin Lari and Neima Fax sit in character on a wooden bench together. Their stage characters, Pete and Ginette, have just exchanged their first “I love you”s, and Pete begins to describe people’s’ relationships to one another using a snowball as a model of the earth. When sitting next to someone, you can say you are either the closest or the farthest from them, depending on which way around the snowball you measure.

This metaphor in the prologue to this season’s school play, Almost, Maine, perfectly captures the essence of the small town where it takes place, and where its characters explore love and loss. Even in the smallestalmost” town, you can avoid someone and feel distant, measuring the long way around the snowball, or you can seek them out and have a close relationship, measuring the short way around the snowball.

Written by John Cariani, Almost, Maine, is comprised of 11 vignettes that all take place in the fictional town of Almost, in the frosty state of Maine. While each smaller play has a separate romantic-comedy storyline, they are strung together by references to each other’s characters in the town.

It’s North America’s most commonly produced play among high schools, according to NPR, and will be presented by Shalhevet Drama Dec. 14, 15, 16, and 18 with a cast of 13.

Adam Ritz, a sophomore who plays the roles of Jimmy and Steve, attributes the play’s popularity to the relatability of the characters.

“Although the characters are all based on people in their mid-20s and 30s,” Adam said, “I think they’re all still people that teenagers and high schoolers can relate to … because they’re not that much older than us and at the same time, they’re what we may see ourselves as in the future.”

Adam said he specifically connects to the play because his character speaks with a similar cadence and dialect as himself, using words that he would use in daily life and emphasizing similar things.

Shana Lunzer, a junior who plays the roles of Gayle and Glory, believes it’s so popular in high schools because it is easily cast, costumed and choreographed. The vignettes can be performed with anywhere from four to 19 actors, and they can be properly costumed in snow boots and a warm coat. The set design is not extravagant, either. The same bench is used in almost every play without much other furniture.

“It’s a really easy-to-do show, but when it’s done well it can be really really cool,” Shana said.

The play carries a mystical tone throughout, with a stage effect of the Northern Lights overhead making characters and audience feel small beneath beauties and mysteries of the universe. The town of Almost is desolate but warm.

Some of the storylines are easily relatable, such as a deep conversation between significant others or discovering the love one has for a friend for the first time. Others are more imaginative, such as confessing your love to a stranger thinking he’s a long-lost ex-boyfriend.

Shana said the shorter plays have meant less rehearsal time for the actors, since only two or three actors need to rehearse at a time.  Then when they are onstage, each actor has the complete focus of the audience. In more typical play, actors might be on stage much longer but receive less attention.

“I think it’s better for bonding and whatever to do like a big show together, because then you’re spending like a huge amount of time together, and you really get to know everybody else better,” she said.

Drama Director Ms. Emily Chase said one factor in choosing Almost, Main was that it could be “properly rehearsed within the parameters of Shalhevet students’ unusually busy schedules.”

She said other plays she had considered this year didn’t have enough male roles.

“Every year I meet the students, and decide on a play that fits who they are,” Ms. Chase said.

For the third production in a row, Shalhevet students will be given free performances during what would otherwise be class time. Shana said that ensures all students get to see the show, while making it easier for the actors to get home, do homework and wake up the next morning to do it all again.

There will also be two non-school performances on Sunday the 18th.