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LIGHTNING REVIEW: Love's labors win in 'Almost, Maine'

Jenna Tamisiea and Jesse Siak, a graduate of East Henderson High School, in 'This Hurts' in Act 1 of 'Almost, Maine.' Jenna Tamisiea and Jesse Siak, a graduate of East Henderson High School, in 'This Hurts' in Act 1 of 'Almost, Maine.'

What is love? How do you find love? When do you know when to grab love and hold on? When do you know when love's not worth keeping?

And why on earth would you expect to find answers to such burning questions on a cold clear moonless Friday night in the middle of the deepest part of a northern Maine winter?
Love — as in falling in, falling out of, being mixed up about — is the thread of "Almost, Maine," an amusing, often sweet and sometimes moving series of vignettes involving couples finding and losing their way in the mysteries of the human heart.
In fact, a character named Glory, played by Abby Hart, actually makes her way to the community of Almost (which never got around to organizing itself officially into a town, and thus became "Almost") carrying her broken heart in a bag.
In the prologue, Ryan Rhue, as Pete, and Ashley Sweetman, as Ginette, are sitting on a park bench in the snow. "I love you," she blurts out. As well as he knows astrophysics, Pete is an ignoramus when it comes to matters of the heart. A beautiful chick says she loves him and what does he do? This ain't quantum physics, pal. That's the first of many scenes where, as non-interactive audience member, we sit on the temptation to shout, "Kiss her!"
Almost has the sacred — the Northern Lights flash subtly throughout the show — and the mundane — everyone works in the plywood mill, and precious little else. There are no smartphones, widescreen TVs or Twitter accounts.
The cast of "Almost, Maine" is almost entirely young, almost entirely made up of newcomers to the main stage of the Flat Rock Playhouse and almost ready for prime time. Director Neela Munoz has done a terrific job guiding the young cast through the scenes and the moods, the ups and downs.
East Henderson High School graduate Jesse Siak, who started acting on these boards at age 10 and "graduated from every level of education Flat Rock Playhouse offers," as his playbill bio says, is terrific in three roles, especially the beer-drinking millworker who discovers he's falling in love with his lifelong (male) best friend and the snowmobile riding suitor wooing the tomboyish Rhonda (Ashley Sweetman).
"Almost" breezes by because the scenes come and go quickly. If you don't like one — and I didn't like "Where it Went," Scene 2 of Act II — wait a while and it'll be over. You don't have to wait long for the other shoe to drop in this downer of a scene, literally, and thank goodness for it.
Obviously, too obviously, Kaitlyn Frotton is supposed to be strident, both as Gayle in "Getting It Back" and Hope in "Story of Hope." She's too strident to be likable. She might tone it down a tad if she wants the audience to feel a spoonful of sympathy.
Siak and Felipe Barbosa Bombanato, as the beer-drinking pals competing with one another for the worst date tale, perform the most comical of the vignettes, ending with hard flopping and hard falls that only gifted and well-drilled dancers could pull off. Bravo! gentlemen.
Near the end, the dim and tedious "Story of Hope" mercifully wraps up. Luckily,
Siak and Sweetman lift the mood and rescue the whole play with "Seeing the Thing," the happiest of the 11 scenes.
Siak's Dave has painted Rhonda a picture, a representation of his feelings for her. She can't see the thing. Everybody in town, Dave tells her, knows that "you're a little hung up there" when it comes to love.
She's never been kissed and is afraid to try. When she finally takes a chance, she catches on. "I thought it would be hard," she says. The rest is, well, a warm end to a cold night in Almost, Maine. Pay attention. The set design folks have created a neat surprise when Dave sets the portrait on the ground and turns it to face the audience.
In the epilogue the play gives us one more nugget of reward. Pete and Ginette, the bench-sitting couple we met in the prologue, get closer and closer and closer. You got a coupon for love you gotta redeem it.