Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Review: Almost, Maine

I saw Almost, Maine tonight at the Daryl Roth on Union Square, a theater that — after scoring a huge hit with that bit of flying trapeze theatrics, De La Guarda — has somewhat languished recently with misses like Manuscript, which end up closing sooner than expected. The current show, unfortunately, is going to fall into that latter category. After the show, a cast member announced that it's going to close on Feb. 12 instead of Feb. 26 as expected.

The show is one of those loose anthologies of little vingettes on the universal theme of love that are supposed to add up to more than the sum of their parts and rarely do. Even when they fall short of that mark, they can be satisfying. After the Night and the Music, for instance, which ran last year at the Biltmore, managed to provide entertainment and depth in respectable quantities. Almost, however, doesn't even deserve the faint praise of its title.

Each segment, the audience realizes, ends up turning on one of those devices of making physical the metaphorical that can be so magical in the right hands (say, Aimee Bender's short stories), but just devolve into a series of groaners in this case. By the time a missing shoe magically falls out of the sky between a feuding pair of marrieds, I'd had enough. Yes, the playwright, John Cariani (who's apparently a "Law and Order" regular, not that I'd know that without help), has enough restraint in that scene to keep tacit what everyone's thinking ("Oop, guess they were waiting for the other shoe to drop"), but the same can't be said for most of the other vignettes. Probably the worst was a Brokeback-esque scene of two bowling-'n-drinking buddies literally falling (for each other), where one actually says to the other, I think I just fell in love with you. It was almost embarassing to see them have to utter the lines as if they were some sort of revelation.

On top of this, it seemed like the woman in almost every scene came off as the jerk, the insensitive one, the stubborn one, the dumb one, whereas the men in the play seem universally downtrodden and put-upon, painfully sensitive, the martyr, the soft-spoken but patient one, etc. (I couldn't help thinking of Garrison Keillor's famous turn of phrase about inhabitants in another small fictional snow-covered town, Lake Wobegon — except that the men of Almost aren't particularly good looking, and while some of the women might be strong, it wouldn't be a compliment.) In short, the men are almost always right, and the women are wrong. Is this Cariani's revenge against women? Does he really think that's the way it is? Was he even conscious of how skewed he's made this world of upstate Maine? It's hard to expect that kind of depth when the surface of the play is so dope-slap obvious.

I really wanted to like it more. The cast includes Todd Cerveris, Michael's brother, who played in the recent revival of Twentieth Century and The Booth Variations, as well as Miriam Shor, who was Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Remembering what a great performance she gave as a guy in that awesome film (alas, I never saw the original show live), it was painful to see her play a rough-and-tumble just-one-of-the-guys tomboy on a snowmobile, who also happens to be a never-been-kissed emotionally closeted dimwit. What she could do with better writing ...

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