NORWAY – Somewhere north of here there’s a magical place called “Almost, Maine.”

Everyone should go there.

It’s a place where northern lights bring dreams to life in a single moment in time.

The stage of the Norway Grange is the road to “Almost, Maine,” where on a cold winter night four people give us glimpses of how love comes and goes in their lives.

Playwright John Cariani’s gently humorous and often bittersweet vignettes can be seen June 26-29 at the Grange in four remaining shows by an excellent cast of the Oxford Hills Music and Performing Arts Association.

Taking on the portrayal of 19 different characters in this production are Cynthia Reedy, Michael Newsom, Kathryn Gardner and Matt Delamater.

To single out individual actors would be a mistake, because each takes a turn as a lead in the various sketch-length stories. Each of them draws on solid resources of theatrical skill to provide believable and enjoyable performances.

There’s a pleasing mix of starry-eyed romance and genuine pratfall comedy throughout “Almost, Maine.” Cariani, who grew up in Presque Isle, captures the Maine character, and director Kenn Sawyer presents them on the OHMPAA stage without resorting to accents or other devices.

Delamater and Gardner are paired in a skit called “Her Heart.” Gardner puts a twist on the broken heart cliche as a girl who carries a paper bag containing the shattered pieces of her heart. And who does she meet under the glow of the Aurora Borealis? A sympathetic Maine repairman.

Then there’s the story of Jimmy and Sandrine, played by Newsom and Reedy. They are the couple who meet at a bar some months after drifting apart … and keep drifting, until a waitress played by Gardner comes up with the anchor line at the end.

The bittersweet side of love is explored in “Story of Hope,” played in an understated but powerful scene by Newsom and Reedy.

For all-out laughs, there is the macho ice-fishing buddies scene in which Newsom and Delamater literally find themselves falling for each other.

Comedy is also featured in “This Hurts.” Delamater is a guy who can’t feel pain and he keeps notebooks on what hurts and what he should fear. Reedy, a neighbor in a poor relationship with her boyfriend, unintentionally knocks some sense into the literal numbskull.

Gardner does another clever skit with Newsom in which she demands that they give each other back the love they gave each other during an exceptionally long engagement. She drags in stuffed duffel bags filled with the love she got. He can only find a small cloth pouch of her love. It’s all about how you measure and package love.

The set for “Almost, Maine” is simple but effective with plenty of snowbanks and fir trees. The backdrop and overhead array of twinkling stars set a romantic mood, and the northern lights appear on cue.

There are only four listed cast members, but actually there are two others who appear on stage for scene changes, and they are a special delight. The transitions are accomplished in the usual manner of toting new furniture and props on and off stage in full view of the audience. However, in “Almost, Maine” these changes are done by two stagehands clad in blaze orange parkas with fur-fringed hoods that hide their faces. Their comically inept antics, spiced by frequent beer thefts, are an excellent complement to several scenes in the play.

Jeff Orwig and Norm Hutchins were the silent duo in the opening night performance. They earned several rounds of well-deserved applause.

Remaining shows

WHAT: “Almost, Maine”

WHO: Oxford Hills Music and Performing Arts Association

WHEN: at 8 p.m. June 26, 27, 28; and at 2 p.m. June 29

WHERE: Norway Grange, 15 Whitman St., Norway

TICKETS: $10 for adults, $8 for children 12 and under and senior citizens 55 and above. They are available at Books N Things, Main Street, Norway; call 739-6200


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