Talented cast shines in Guild’s “Almost, Maine

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Dearborn residents Nicki Sharer (left) plays Glory and Brian Townsend plays East in “Her Heart,” a scene from the John Cariani romantic comedy, “Almost Maine.” The show runs weekends March 2 to 18, with 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday shows and 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinees. For more information call (313) 561-TKTS or go to www.playersguildofdearborn.org.

The northern lights and the talented cast shine in the Players Guild of Dearborn production of John Cariani’s romantic comedy “Almost Maine,” which opened Friday for a three weekend run.

The show, directed by Paul Bruce, runs through March 20, with 8 p.m. shows Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinees. For more information, call (313) 561-TKTS or go to www.playersguildofdearborn.org.

The story is set in the mythical town of Almost, Maine on a cold, clear, moonless night in the middle of winter. As the northern lights shimmer in the sky the residents find themselves inexplicably falling in and out of love in unexpected and sometimes humorous ways.

A twinkling backdrop of diamond-like stars scattered against a dark night sky provide an elegant backdrop for the stellar cast, as well as a canvas for the luminous aurora borealis lighting effects.

In a serendipitous twist of art imitating life, Michael Bollman of Dearborn as Pete and Kimberly Elliott of Canton as Ginette anchor the show as a young couple who have just begun to date. Eager to please each other and avoid early conflict, their characters capture the tenuous blend of hesitancy and eagerness that mark so many budding relationships.

As the show unfolds, each vignette reveals itself as more than a simple love lesson: Cariani has sprinkled both subtle symbolism and clever wit into each story. He also makes the most of his characters’ names, so pay attention: while there won’t be a quiz after the final curtain, you’ll experience more “aha” moments if you discover his double meanings in the details.

East meets Wes as Dearborn residents Brian Townsend as Easton and Nicki Sharer as Glory launch the scenes with “Her Heart,” the first vignette.

Glory has come to see the northern lights because she believes they represent the “torches of the departed soul,” which for her is her recently deceased cheating husband, Wes.

Townsend displays a wonderful balance of sensitivity and humor while calming a widow who purports to hold her broken heart clutched tightly in a paper bag clutched in her hands.

As the sky works its romantic magic, East gently reminds the weary widow that as a repairman he “can fix things… it’s what I do.” Townsend strikes the right balance of sensitivity and humor for a sketch that could be one-dimensional without the warmth and wit he brings to the role.

Sharer as Glory walks a fine line between madness and remarkable insight as she navigates the tricky waters of grief sullied with betrayal. She successfully blends her character’s universal insights with endearing symbolic gestures that bring a smile to your lips and a lump to your throat.

In “Sad and Glad” Ken Kilgore of Dearborn plays Jimmy, a man who spots his former girlfriend, Ebony Bradley of Detroit as Sandrine, on the eve of her wedding to her rebound romance.

Kilgore captures the pain of rejected love while Bradley ably embodies the unease of spotting one’s ex at the restaurant where her bachelorette party is being held.

Both Bradley and Andrea Hoglen of Canton, as the waitress, successfully reinforce the atmosphere of a busy, crowded restaurant even if the three of them are the only actors on stage.
Once again, pay attention to the playwright’s words and names – they provide a neat “aha” moment for those clever enough to catch them.

In “This Hurts” Juliette Delabbio-Abbott of Allen Park plays Marvalyn, a woman doing laundry alone in her apartment building basement on a Friday night despite her having a self-proclaimed happy relationship with her live-in boyfriend.

Bobby Murray of Dearborn plays Steve, who lives in the apartment below her, and hears the unedited soundtrack of her stress-filled life.

When she accidently clobbers him with an ironing board, she discovers he has congenital analgesia – the inability to feel physical pain.

Again, the storyline is ripe for multiple layers of meaning, which bring out Delabbio-Abbott’s nurturing nature, while letting Murray build the groundwork for the “no love without pain” metaphors.

The first act is brought to a close by Tiffany Mullins of Livonia, who plays Gayle in “Getting it Back,” which features Tom Varitek of Dearborn as Lendall. Again, what begin as an obvious metaphor for excess baggage ends up offering a sparkling gem of wisdom.

Mullins’ exuberant persona is an impulsive, emotional lady who is is drawn to a quiet man who manages one well-timed, perfect gesture.

Dearborn resident Chris Boudreau plays Randy and Kirk Haas of Inkster plays Chad in the second act’s opening scene “They Fell.”

While two buddies compare notes on dating fiascoes, it occurs to both that they enjoy each other’s company better than any other.

With a well-measured blend of wit, pratfalls and ambiguity, we are able to draw our own conclusions about where the relationship will lead.

Both Haas and Boudreau establish the character camaraderie of longtime friends that brings the vignette to life in a sympathetic way while casually sidestepping the political minefield of same-gender attraction.

The second set of the second act brings about the first aurora borealis break-up as James Kirwan of Dearborn plays Phil to Meredith Ferry of Allen Park’s Marci in “Where It Went.”

The two play a married couple with kids who feel alone when together. When one tries to recreate their first date for their anniversary, the plan backfires as the clutter of their mutual stress and irritation drowns out whatever affection and warmth they once felt for each other.

Both effectively capture the bitterness of spouses for whom the magic has faded and the gaps are filled with enmity.

Again, watch for the very end of the scene where the playwright very cleverly delivers the punch line without saying a word.

“The Story of Hope,” which features Linda Barsamian of Novi as the Woman and John Sczomak of Dearborn as the Man, again mixes name play with subtle yet kind humor.

Barsamian adds classy cachet to a high-strung woman who discovers too late what she lost in her life by going solo, while at the same time discovering that dreams sometimes seem larger than life in the dim recesses of memory.

Sczomak, whose character primarily listens, delivers lines worth hearing when he finally gets a chance to speak. His seemingly casual response to an off-stage character is loaded with import as well.

The quietness of “The Story of Hope” is quickly and energetically swept away by the high-energy and quick pace of the closing vignette.

Margaret Kinnell of Wayne plays Rhonda and Kenyada Davis of Detroit plays Dave in “Seeing the Thing.”

The “thing” is a painting Dave has made for Rhonda, a self-proclaimed abstract which is not revealed to the audience until the end. The painting is his indirect way of trying to determine if she, as a co-worker, would welcome or reject affectionate overtures from him.

Unfortunately for Dave, Rhonda hasn’t a clue about Dave’s feelings or even kissing, which baffles her until she discovers its appeal. Luckily Rhonda is a quick study. No prissy miss, she’s a strong, diamond-in-the-rough who never had the chance to be a girly-girl.

Davis and Kinnell use a fast pace with their lines that is dead on, and spot-on physical comedy, which evokes much laughter. The strong pairing leaves the audience wanting more from the dynamic duo at the end of the act.

“Almost Maine,” which features 19 actors, offers a strong showcase of the Guild’s talent, and an entertaining evening of romantic ups and downs. Valentine’s Day may be over, but the game of the human heart knows no season.