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Arts and Entertainment

OTC Presents Free Performances Of "Almost, Maine" At The Art Museum

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(Poster design courtesy Eventbrite.com)
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Ozarks Technical Community College’s Fine Arts Department will present John Cariani’s collection of short romantic comedies, “Almost, Maine” in the Auditorium at the Springfield Art Museum, 1111 E. Brookside Drive, Wednesday-Saturday Nov. 20-23 at 7 p.m. and Sunday Nov. 24 at 2 p.m. We were joined on “Arts News” by OTC Theatre/Drama instructor Jon Herbert and two of the student actors in the production, Maggie Sauce and Mosiah Bradshaw.  Both play several roles in the show.                                  

Jon Herbert explained the premise. “The setting is a fictional town called ‘Almost,’ in northern Maine. It’s around where Aroostook County would be—way up in the northern part of the state, maybe hundreds of miles from anything but a bunch of potato farms. It’s a Friday night in January, just before the aurora borealis lights up the sky, right around 9:00pm.  Each scene, which is essentially a 10-minute or so play of its own, is taking place at the exact same time.” The scenes involve two, sometimes three actors, whose characters are inspired by the magical energy of the Northern Lights to navigate the intricacies of relationships.

“It’s interesting—in the author’s notes of the script,” said Jon Herbert, “he has this wonderful thing where he describes, scientifically, what the Northern Lights are. He says, this comes about because molecular materials in the atmosphere become excited.  They’re normally ‘grounded,’ but they become excited by the solar wind activity. And he says that, very much like this, the people in Almost are typically very grounded people, but they become excited by love—and other mysterious circumstances. There’s a fair amount of ‘magical realism’, and a little bit of absurdity, to the play, but it’s very real. The characters are very honest and sincere, simplistic but not simple-minded. They’re just quite lovely. It’s amazing how quickly you fall in love with these characters in just a short scene.”

The evening consists of ten of these short, ten-minute-long vignettes.  Jon and his student actors laughed when I asked if Maggie and Josiah were involved in all ten. Not quite, but the entire cast is kept fairly busy during the production. “The play was actually written for four actors to play all of the roles. And, just being an academic program and having a really amazing pool of talent right now, with just a lot of actors that I wanted to work with, I went ahead and cast nine actors to play two, three, sometimes four roles each. So Maggie’s playing four roles; Mosiah’s playing two.”

“I’m playing Pete,” said Mosiah Bradshaw. “He’s just on a date with his girlfriend. He’s kind of socially awkward, a little uncomfortable. And then I play Randy, who’s just in a potato field with is best friend, and they’re just chatting about how badly their dates went.”

Maggie Sauce plays Ginette, the girlfriend of socially-awkward Pete. “But she’s just enamored with him. And I play a waitress [who is not referred to by name in the play], and she is just working at the Moose Patty, a local bar, taking orders in and out—a very fast-paced character.  And then Marci—she is married, and going out on a date with her husband… and it’s not going too well. The last one is a character named Hope. She had this boyfriend, and she left town, and she’s come back to find him, just searching for her place.”

How do Maggie and the other actors in the show differentiate between each character they play, in terms of costumes or makeup? “They’re very, very different,” said director Jon Herbert. “She’s got one really quick change because Hope comes on right after Marci--like immediately after Marci!” “It’s the very next scene, yeah,” added Maggie Sauce. “Fortunately,” continued Herbert, “they’re both exterior scenes, so a lot of the costume change is going to be mostly external changes.” “Yeah, shed a coat, put another one on. That’s all it’s going to be,” said Sauce.

Jon Herbert, Maggie’s director, wanted to give her some “props” for the job she’s doing, “this quick-change that Maggie has to do, because both of these scenes are intensely emotional scenes. Before we came in I asked Maggie if this was emotionally taxing, emotionally draining.  More than anything else, these are two largely dramatic scenes actually. Most of the play is a comedy, and even the ‘dramatic’ scenes have some really funny moments in them. But these are probably the two most dramatic scenes. So it’s really quite amazing, actually, to watch how Maggie transforms from one character to the next.  The transitions (between scenes) are pretty fast.  There’s music by Julian Fleisher, written specifically for this play. And (playwright) John Cariani strongly encourages people to use it.

“One thing you need to know about John Cariani’s writing,” continued Jon Herbert, “is he is really hands-on as a playwright. His stage directions are intensely detailed, and have a lot of his own character in them. And his author’s notes are extensive. When I read the play the first time, I loved everything about the play—including his stage directions and author’s notes. And I thought, ‘I’m going to take every suggestion he has!’  And normally I like to do my own pre-show music and incidental music, but I listened to some of Julian Fleisher’s music and I liked it.” So he decided to use them as well. “These music transitions are, maybe, a minute long. We’ve got this amazing crew that is doing these really fast scene shifts.  Some of the scenes are interior scenes, some are exterior, and we have a very, very functional set design by one of our art students, Joe Dugger. Really, really brilliant—this man has a brilliant mind and he’s done some really cool things.” Herbert called Dugger’s set design “beautiful,” and the two student actors readily agreed.

I asked about the production schedule—five performances in five days.  Jon Herbert explained that usually OTC productions run just three performances over a single weekend. “I’ve always wanted to do a two-weekend run, and sometimes logistically it just doesn’t work out that way. I went to the powers that be this time and said, ‘We do all this work….’ I either wanted to do a two-weekend run or an extended run, and that’s what we decided on.”

The show is free and open to the public. “All of our shows are free at this point in time. It’s sort of our gift to the community,” said Jon Herbert. “We’re a community college, we’re all about community. We’ve got this great relationship with the Art Museum, so I’d say it’s a gift from OTC and the Springfield Art Museum. We just want this to be as accessible as we can—free art.” 

The Art Museum auditorium seats around 390, said Jon Herbert, but OTC encourages patrons to reserve their free seats in advance through the Eventbrite website,  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/almost-maine-tickets-71814512139, “to give us a notion of what to prepare for.” You can find the Eventbrite link on OTC Theatre’s Facebook event page as well.

For more information call 417-447-8975 or email finearts@otc.edu.