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UW-Waukesha's "Almost, Maine" benefits from simplicity

March 13, 2014

"Almost, Maine" has become of favorite of community theater groups, as well as college ensembles. It's easy to see why. The staging is simple, the nine vignettes with two characters each are easy to rehearse, and the charming stories of love and romance are appealing to a wide range of audiences.

It's a buffet of romance that has a dish for most everyone. The show could be compared to a book of short stories, while most plays are novels.

The University of Wisconsin-Waukesha took on the production with several of its students in its cast. And after its last production, the heavy "Fuente Ovehuna," this one seemed as light as air on opening night.

The show is a perfect fit for a college production,with most of its characters around college age. The school used eight students and three alumni in its cast of 18.

Director Sandra Renick, who had appeared in Lake Country Playhouse's recent production of "Almost Maine," kept her characters low-key, emphasizing their ordinariness rather than dramatizing their quirks. The result was stories that were most relatable, even though sometimes bizarre.

The show takes place in the imaginary town of Almost, Maine, on the same night, at different places. Though different characters appear in each scene, you'll hear them refer to each other as the show progresses. The guys seem to all work at the lumber mill, and the town's favorite (only?) hangout is the Moose Paddy bar. For the actors, the northern setting often means wearing layers of clothing and heavy boots in the heat of the spotlight.

Each scene shows a couple struggling to get a handle on some aspect of love — most with happy endings — but what makes this show unique is the charming, visual way playwright John Cariani depicts love and romance. In "Giving It Back," Gayle (Joanna Perez) has been dating Lendall (Brady Drays) long enough and wants to give all his love back. So she hauls in sacks and sacks. Each scene has such an unexpected surprise as this. Even if you've seen the show before, it doesn't cease to delight, but helps reveal more layers of clever language and sights.

All the scenes were well-done. In "This Hurts," Kassandra Novell, a standout in several LCP recent productions, pairs with husband Chad Novell, who plays a character who can't feel pain. The pair does well with the physical humor, and Novell really lets her character build to the perfect empathetic pitch.

Zach Ihn, who has had an outstanding career in UW-Waukesha theater, and Sarah Giencke are so much fun to watch in "Seeing the Thing," in which Dave tries to convince his girlfriend she's more than a pal.

Anthony Kolp as Dave keeps a tight lid on his character when he sees his ex-girlfriend Sandrine (Dianna Schneider) at the bar in "Sad and Glad," making the audience root for him.

Stacy Madson and Eric Madson effectively play a couple trying to renew the spark their marriage once had as they return to the ice skating rink in "Where It Went." Ethan Soderberg combines wonder and annoyance at the young woman with "baggage" (Jamie Watkins) who trespasses on his property to view the aurora borealis in "Her Heart."

Zach Ursem, another UW-Waukesha student who always adds a layer of humor to his roles, has another fine turn as Chad in "They Fell," as he and Randy (Daniel Sponder) discover over a one-on-one game of hockey what they're missing in their love lives.

In "Story of Hope," Sara Sarna and local theater veteran Dave Boxhorn discuss a long past opportunity at love.

Luke Witte and Stephanie Nilsen are nicely paired in the show's bookend scenes.

Producer and set designer Steve Decker created a simple, impressionistic storybook set, with cutout fir trees, splashes of snow and the open, airy visual of a home using strips of material for the roof lines and hanging windows. It was a perfect ethereal setting for the show. A nice hearty mix of pulsing guitars and flutes between scenes also helped set a northern, woodsy mood.

IF YOU GO

Who: The University of Wisconsin-Waukesha Lunt-Fontanne Theatre Ensemble

What: "Almost, Maine"

When: 7:30 March 14, 15

Where: UW-Waukesha Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 1500 N. University Ave., Waukesha

Tickets: (262) 521-5212

UP NEXT

Who: The University of Wisconsin-Waukesha Lunt-Fontanne Theatre Ensemble

What: "Kiss Me Kate"

When: 7:30 p.m. July 18, 19, 25 26 2 p.m. July 27. Auditions for the show are May 18 and 19. Contact Steve Decker at stevendecker@uwc.edu for details.

Where: UW-Waukesha Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 1500 N. University Ave., Waukesha

Tickets: (262) 521-5212

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