Every theatergoer has a point where willing suspension of disbelief becomes unrevivable. Mine sputtered through the first 60 percent of "Almost, Maine," then died during a vignette labeled "The Story of Hope."
A woman named Hope returns to her hometown after an unspecified time - a decade, I'd guess - to see the boyfriend who proposed to her and was left waiting for an answer. She hasn't written or spoken to him since or bothered to find out whether he still lives there. She takes a taxi 160 miles to see him and dismisses the cab, so certain is she that bliss lies at the end of her road. (Alert: a spoiler is coming.)
She pours out her heart to the man who answers the door, although he turns out to be a complete stranger. But wait - he is the boyfriend she's loved for so long. She didn't recognize him, partly because the guy - who used to be a star basketball player - is now much shorter than he used to be. Why? He lost a lot of Hope, he explains.
If this kind of whimsy suggests a romanticized "Northern Exposure," you'll be in the right place, for the Davidson Community Players give their considerable all in service of John Cariani's comedy. The show, which sold out last year at their home in Armour Street Theatre, has been imported to Spirit Square for the Players' annual trip south.
Never miss a local story.
But if your gag reflex has kicked in, I warn you that it'll see a lot of action. The play's heart is a mile wide but only a couple of inches deep, and each of the nine episodes (one of which bookends the others) involves incredible coincidences, broad metaphors or an assist from the supernatural.
Cariani has been a professional actor for years, and his writing debut feels like a series of monologues he'd have had enjoyed performing. The vignettes don't build emotionally; they stay at the same level of humor or seriousness, like songs that could be three minutes but go on for nine. The inevitable surprises at the end aren't really surprises, once we get the hang of Cariani's style. When you see that a segment is titled "They Fell," you can be sure the actors will end up literally on their behinds and figuratively in love with somebody.
Yet even that piece shows the strength of the ensemble, as Christian Love and Scot Slusarick slide through their pratfalls with ease. (Slapstick looks simple but never is.) Except for young Kathryn Jeffords and Isaac Josephthal, who have extended cameos as a shy young couple, the other six actors play multiple roles. (Christian Love whips up four mini-characterizations with chameleonic skill.)
Larry Ligo and Ginny Darcy ring true as older couples, whether tender or quarrelsome; Juli Von Canon brings multiple colors to Hope's monologues; Heather Love pulls off the near-impossible role of a winsome hiker who carries around her broken heart in a sack, until she camps out on the lawn of a repairman. (Ah, a "repairman.")
Director Melissa Ohlman-Roberge makes fine use of the small, multilevel set she designed, which manages to seem as chilly as Maine itself in winter yet as warm as "Maine" means to be. She and the cast remind me of the kids in "A Charlie Brown Christmas," who decorate a small, spindly tree with such care that it eventually looks inviting.