The latest offering from the New Haven Theater Company goes up this Thursday night and plays for the next two weekends. Following on the warm, fuzzy feeling that their production of Our Town inspired in the fall, the folks at NHTC have jumped into a more contemporary play about a fictitious town: Almost, Maine, by John Cariani. Co-directed by Megan Chenot (the Stage Manager in Our Town) and Margaret Mann (Mrs. Soames in Our Town), Almost, Maine finds NHTC returning to the same space—in the back of the English Building Markets on Chapel—where they staged Our Town, to take us to another “almost” town. Mann says the troupe really “bonded like a family” during the Our Town run, and remarks that she’s never been part of a theatrical group where “the entire company gets along” so well, all committed to making “the best production possible.” The group wanted to find a new vehicle quickly while still riding the good vibes from Our Town, both among the company and from the NHTC’s fans and supporters. Megan Chenot knew of the popular winter play Almost, Maine, having staged it with high school students during her time at Cheshire Academy. It’s a family friendly play, language-wise, and Mann calls it “funny and refreshing.” And it’s one of the most staged plays in our nation’s high schools since its first successful run—in Portland, Maine—in 2004. The play was recently staged at TheatreWorks in Hartford.
Set in a small town in Maine, the play brings together 8 different vignettes, 4 in each act, framed by a prologue, interlogue, and epilogue. Each of the segments presents a couple finding love, losing love or grappling with love in some way, and all are happening more or less simultaneously on a winter’s night around 9 p.m. Mann characterizes the dialogue as “charming and real,” and Chenot—who is also a member of the musical duo Mission O—has written incidental music to help with the transitions.
Mann volunteered to work with Chenot when the latter proposed the play but didn’t want to direct it solo. Mann has found that the process of working with her NHTC colleagues in this capacity has let her “direct the way I would like to be directed.” Which is a way of saying that she doesn’t see this as a production she controls but rather one where collaboration is the method. It’s all about “encouragement, and trying things.” Chenot praises her co-director for being “patient, kind, and so observant of every important nuance.”
NHTC has developed a great feel for ensemble work as the same dedicated players appear again and again in their productions. Almost, Maine will feature 8 actors playing 17 characters, which means everyone gets at least two roles. That element of the staging—seeing actors change roles before your eyes—adds to the entertainment in such an intimate space as the English Building Markets. The scenic design is fairly minimal—with some of the props for sale in the Market itself—but there will be a scrim for an important special effect: the Aurora Borealis. And, of course, snow.
According to Mann, the play is very definitely set in Maine—way up in Maine. Maybe to the point where our sense of “north” becomes somewhat mythic. In any case, it’s a play that seems to strike a chord with contemporary Americans, especially—perhaps—those who know what cold is. And those are the people who might enjoy a warm night of theater with the friendly faces of the New Haven Theater Company.
To add to the warmth: NHTC invites its audience to bring new or gently used winter clothing, to be donated to a local charity, as well as unopened cat food and clean blankets and towels, to be donated to the Purr Project of New Haven.
Almost, Maine by John Cariani Directed by Megan Chenot and Margaret Mann
The English Building Markets 839 Chapel Street, New Haven
November 14-16 and 21-23 at 8pm Tickets are $20 For more information, visit www.newhaventheatercompany.com