‘Almost, Maine’ a welcome reprieve from the frenzy of the season

Iowa City Community Theatre Presents: Almost, Maine

Johnson County Fairgrounds — through Dec. 15

Kristina Rutkowski (L) and Duane Larson in Iowa City Community Theatre’s production of ‘Almost, Maine.’ — Emily McKnight, emcknight photography

Iowa City Community Theater opened Almost, Maine (John Cariani, 2004) Friday night, and it was the perfect antidote to stressful holiday shopping and parties. The minimalist sets (Jeffrey Allen Mead), lighting that mimicked the Northern Lights (Mike Jesse) and a series of eleven heart-touching scenes beautifully directed by Nate J. Sullivan all came together to provide a delightful evening for everyone.

This show had the actors embracing two or three characters each throughout the evening. The show’s prologue offers Ginette (Brooke Willis) declaring her love for Pete (Alan Ridgway). Ridgway portrays a very particular character who understands the world in his own certain way in this prologue, the interlogue and the epilogue. The interlogue, it should be noted, has Ridgway sitting contemplatively on stage during the whole intermission, and he is truly interesting the entire time.

The scenes are set in an unincorporated area of Maine and are presented as if happening simultaneously on a cold winter evening, with love, clever word play and the Northern Lights in the air. Scene one finds East (Brian Tanner) and Glory (Kristina Rutkowski) meeting in East’s field as Glory is on an unusual errand. Both of these characters are so genuine and sweet, I found myself smiling throughout their exchange.

In another scene, Jimmy (Gavin Conkling) must come to terms with the end of his relationship with Sandrine (Angela McConville). Conkling portrays a man who had high hopes and finds himself alone — at least until the waitress (Willis again) comes along.

Gavin Conkling (L) and Angela McConville in Iowa City Community Theatre’s production of ‘Almost, Maine.’ — Emily McKnight, emcknight photography

Jennifer Beall portrays three characters; one of her most touching is Marvalyn, who meets Steve (Ridgway) in the laundry room of a boarding house and teaches him that love does not have to hurt. Duane Larson plays the character Lendall poignantly when his girlfriend is thinking break-up and he’s thinking proposal.

Love is explored in a new way in the scene “They Fell” — and ICCT is using different actors on different nights to show same sex love (the production is usually cast with either two men or two women; ICCT is showing both). On Friday, Randy (Conkling) and Chad (Sam Pelelo-Ray) realize that the person each would most like to be with is the other.

In the penultimate scene, Hope (Sharon Falduto) has returned home to reconnect with her old boyfriend only to find that things don’t stay the same at home when one leaves.

Everyone who is part of this show should be commended for bringing these moments of love and calm to what can be a frenzied season. Almost, Maine runs through Dec. 15 (tickets: $9-17); make time in your schedule to take in the Northern Lights and a series of sweet stories presented by an outstanding ensemble.