By John Cariani
Studio Playhouse, 14 Alvin Place
By STEFANIE SEARS
For Montclair Local
Evergreen trees grace the Studio Playhouse stage to provide a Maine-like setting for Studio Players’ next mainstage Production, John Cariani’s “Almost, Maine.”
The trees remain during all of the 11 scenes in the play, which includes a prologue/interlogue/epilogue.
All of the scenes, which all explore love, are set in the town of “Almost,” in Maine. The characters say it is a town, but an unorganized one. Despite its specific setting, the show has become one of the most produced plays in the country and the world. It opened in Portland, Maine in 2004, then Off-Broadway in 2006. It had a short run in New York City, but, according to Wikipedia it is now the most produced play in American high schools. There’s a vignette with a woman who carries her broken heart in a paper bag. There’s a vignette with a same-sex couple. The New York Post described the play as “‘Our Town’ crossed with ‘The Twilight Zone.’”
Cariani says in his notes that the cast can vary with many combinations: it calls for four cast members in their late ’20s to early ’30s, but the number of actors and their ages can vary..
At Studio Players, 12 actors playing nine couples tapped into their own emotions to deliver these stories.
Speaking after the first off-book dress rehearsal last week (the first time actors do not have scripts in hand), Director Amy Fox said she encouraged her team to draw motivation from personal experiences on how to genuinely convey the stories. Though discussions, they bring original ideas into the process, Fox said.
For example, she said, Montclairite Kyle Marr, who was last seen in Studio Players’ production of “Don’t Drink the Water,” plays Jimmy, a heartbroken man who unexpectedly runs into his ex-girlfriend, Sandrine (Megan Hatem). “I felt that Jimmy would be totally devastated, but he said, ‘No. He’d be pissed.’ So we talked about it and I was like, ‘If you sell that to me, I’m on board.’ It was exciting to see him making that transition. It’s always better when an actor does what he feels comes naturally to sell it to the audience,” Fox said
Peyton Thomas plays both Pete, a character who opens the play alongside his beloved Ginette (Elizabeth Quiñones), and Phil, a man struggling to communicate with his wife Marci (Claudia Budris). Thomas, who recently moved to Montclair, is doing his own soul searching for the play. The actor appeared in the 1996 film “White Squall,” which drew on his sailing abilities in South Carolina, but his acting had been on hiatus because of his construction business. Wanting to return to the stage, he and his wife Stephanie, also an actress, decided to audition.
After completing his scenes at rehearsal, Thomas had to recover from the strong emotions he channeled.
“When you get to a place where you are very intense and emotional, the scene can go in a lot of different ways and finding that middle ground is where the sweet spot is. I tend to push it in different directions as much as I can. If you truly put yourself out there and have those feelings, it’s kind of hard to walk offstage and just brush that off because it’s really there. I have to take a moment to breathe.”
His character Pete is featured in a wordless scene, an “interlogue,” that leads intermission into the second act. The lack of dialogue is challenging, Thomas said:“It’s a little uncomfortable to a certain degree for everybody because the audience likes to be told what’s happening and if it goes on for too long they start to wonder ‘Is someone making a mistake?’ If you let those things creep into your mind, you’re not going to be true to what you’re doing. So I pick a few things prior to doing it to focus on. You just have to tell a story within yourself. For me it’s thinking where I am in the moment. You have to make some choices. I think it’s going to be different every night.”