As a general rule, literally translating symbolism and colloquialisms isn’t a great thing to do on stage or a screen or really ever.
Yet, that’s exactly what Christian Beltran and Mandy Moore in director Manu Kumasi’s version of Almost, Almost Maine. Throughout the seven or so vignettes, all with two people in some situation involving romantic love, we see someone asking for “all the love I gave you” back (and receiving a tiny bag in exchange for the trash bags she’s brought back), a broken heart in a bag and a couple literally falling (in love).
It should be terrible. It really should be just about the worst play at the Fringe.
It’s one of the best shows at the Fringe, as it were.
The play, which has a growing cult following with more than 600 stagings across America, is tightly and hilariously written and looks at some rather unpleasant moments in love lives. Balancing the drama (and often sorrow) with the comedic aspects is no easy task but Beltran and Moore handle it with gusto.
Moore, especially, needs to be commended for her virtuoso performance as … well … every female character and one male one. She goes through the entire palate of emotion, just at home delivering a comic line like “I guess I thought everyone from Maine was a lobster man” to breaking down because her husband forgot their anniversary. She plays the loveless and the estranged lover with equal grace, and she was able to steal more than one tear from this particular reviewer.
Beltran, though, also deserves praise. His roles seemed a tiny bit more limiting, but he handled a brunt of the comic workload. And rightly so: he’s hilarious. Playing more of a straight man throughout the show, he was a great companion (in his every character) to Moore’s various personas.
It’s not a play that offers answers. If anything, it gives more questions. One of those being, “Why do we fall in love in the first place? Why even try?”
One story in particular evokes heartbreak and shows off Moore’s acting chops. She plays a woman who hasn’t given an answer to an old beau. What the question is remains a mystery (albeit an easy one to solve). She stands on a soap box on stage left, while Beltran squats behind on stage right. Both face straight ahead, as they have a conversation: her at the door, and him having just answered it.
It would have been easy to stage this with them facing each other, but the audience gets to watch their expressions as she unloads on this total stranger (or is he?) about her lost love and the 163 miles she just cabbed from the Bangor airport to answer that question. As she realizes he doesn’t live at this house anymore, the former “broken heart in a bag sketch” is something everyone in the audience can identify with.
The final portion of the play seeks to answer that though. If there’s any criticism, it’s that the play ends far, far too early. I could have watched these players for another hour or two, easily.
Even the Maine humor hits home, and I’m from Louisiana. That’s saying something!
Almost, Almost Maine has 5 performances, ending July 29, 2012, at Goethe Institut, 812 7th St NW, Washington, DC.
Details and tickets