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In ‘Almost Maine’ at Howard Community College, Northern Lights and the mysteries of love

Lochlan Shea Belford and Nya Stevens star in Howard Community College's Art Collective's production of "Almost, Maine."
Lochlan Shea Belford and Nya Stevens star in Howard Community College's Art Collective's production of "Almost, Maine."(Bruce F. Press Photography / HANDOUT)

In one of a series of surreal scenes, a woman carries her broken heart in a small paper bag in the Arts Collective’s production of “Almost, Maine” by American actor and playwright John Cariani at the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College on Jan. 24, 25 and 26.

The school’s website bills the artful romantic comedy as “a beautiful midwinter night’s dream” happening in a town that “almost doesn’t exist.”

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Cariani, known for playing Julian Beck in “Law & Order,” grew up in northern Maine; in the script, he describes how seeing the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, at least once a year influenced his concept, leading to scenes that take place in a semi-wilderness beneath the Northern Lights.

In “Almost, Maine,” Cariani connects very excited people — who fall in and out of love at exactly 9 p.m. — to “excited atoms” that cause the aurora borealis to hover. He wrote that the show is “about real people who are really, truly, honestly dealing with one of the toughest things there is to deal with in life: love.”

Artistic Director Sue Kramer says the Arts Collective chose to perform the play because the group wanted something different that would feature a lot of people, require minimal tech design and rehearsal time, and rise to a spellbinding, “fully realized evening of theater.”

Many hands at the Arts Collective helped create the piece she characterizes as a bare-bones, simplified production that emphasizes fine storytelling.

“I have an incredible creative team; the collaboration has been rich and the process beautiful,” Kramer said. “The magical part [for the audience] is that we’re about to hear the storytelling of nine different moments that happen during the same 10 minutes.”

As the brief, but powerful, stand-alone stories play out linearly in surreal time, it is understood that they are happening simultaneously.

The cast — seasoned veterans and first-time performers, including students, alumni, staff and guest artists — are: Keith Becraft, Lochlan Shea Belford, Ian O. Collins, Cloe Dixon, Karen Eske, Diego Esmolo, Dana Fleischer, Jesalyn Gordon, Mayumi B. Griffie, Daniel Johnston, Gareth Kelly, Maia Krapcho, Bruce Leipold, Sarah Luckadoo, Morgan Marsden, Melissa Paper, Colin Riley, Nya Stevens and Bryan Thompson.

Among the themes threading through their sweet and surprising tales exploring love and loss are the thrill of falling in love and the power of tenderness, heartbreak and reconciliation.

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“Almost, Maine” premiered at the Portland Stage Company and was selected by the American National Theatre as one of the most outstanding regional productions of the 2004-05 season.

Popular in professional and amateur theaters across the world, “Almost, Maine” was featured in critic D.L. Lepidus’s book, “New Playwrights: Best Plays of 2006.” It made Dramatic Magazine’s 2010 list of the most frequently produced plays in North American high schools and surpassed Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as the most frequently produced in 2017-18, according to the Educational Theatre Association.

In 2014, Cariani contacted WSOC-TV in Maiden, North Carolina, in response to a local controversy surrounding whether his script (which includes a same-sex couple) had sexually explicit overtones that were too risqué for the local high school. He commented then that he believes “the play is about love, not sexual love.”

“Almost, Maine” will be staged at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26, at the Horowitz Center’s Monteabaro Recital Hall, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Admission is $15, $12 for seniors and military, and $10 for students. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 443-518-1500 or online. For more information, go to howardcc.edu.

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