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Last week, a renowned romantic comedy play came to Houston for a few days, just in time for Valentine’s day. “Almost, Maine” was written by John Cariani. It first premiered in 2004 and has become one of the most popular plays in the country, often noted for its whimsical but natural depictions of human relationships.

The play was brought to the MATCH by Mighty Acorn productions and the Houston Equity Festival, a collective of local actors aiming to “honor artists, celebrate playwrights, and enrich audiences.” It was directed by Frances Limoncelli.

“Almost, Maine” takes place in an unrecognized town in Maine that’s not quite a town. The play follows interactions between nine sets of two people in the town. Each vignette takes place during the same ten minutes on an astrologically significant night in Almost. The vignettes explore complicated relationships between people who have just met, longtime friends falling in love and unhappily married couples with grace and humor.

The element of magical realism is a quietly important part of each vignette. It first appears when a woman is holding her own broken heart in a paper bag, preparing to say goodbye to it and her past. It’s a refreshingly direct way to tell the audience about her loss. A missing shoe causes a fight and later falls from the sky, a minute too late. An upset girlfriend returns all of the love her boyfriend ever gave her–in the form of several giant red trash bags. A man literally falls in love and onto the floor, unable to get up. The love and pain that the characters feel aren’t able to be hidden or revealed subtly, because these feelings are too big, and come on suddenly and uncontrollably. 

Although there are 19 characters in the play, the roles were played by 10 actors. The costume changes were not the only tool used to distinguish the characters played by the same actors. Tracy Ahern’s ability to transform from a scatterbrained grieving hiker in one scene to a well-traveled, polished woman in another was particularly impressive. 

The MATCH’s production of “Almost, Maine” was hilarious, uplifting, and heartbreaking. A simple, clever set with a few moving parts and a projector was all that was needed to win the audience’s hearts. Although many of the vignettes had happy endings, some of them had meaningfully vague and painful endings amplified by the actors’ sincere and fully committed performances. 

If you didn’t catch “Almost, Maine” this time, some shows playing at the MATCH this month include “Eddie Goes to Poetry City” and “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.”

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