With Chaffin’s Barn undergoing much-anticipated renovations of their iconic home of fifty-plus years, the company is teaming with Darkhorse Theater (4610 Charlotte Pike, Nashville, TN 37209) as their temporary venue while presenting a limited weekend run of John Cariana’s Almost, Maine, a series of narratives that all take place in the fictional town of Almost, Maine under the magical night-sky of the aurora borealis. Having opened Wednesday, April 11, the show wraps its run on Saturday, April 14 with a 2 p.m. matinee and a final 7:30 p.m. evening performance.
It’s a rare occasion for me to attend a show I’ve never seen, especially in a current Nashville theatre season featuring more than a handful of stalwart productions of favorites and lengthy engagements of national touring legends, so I was thrilled when I heard Chaffin’s Assistant Artistic Director, Bradley Moore was not only directing Almost, Maine, but also starring in it.
For his fellow cast mates, Moore has chosen Geoff Davin, Jenna Pryor and Joy Tilley Perryman, all of whom are no doubt familiar to not only Chaffin’s patrons, but Nashville theatre-goers as a whole.
Davin appears in five of the show’s nine vignettes, playing characters ranging from a well-intentioned “fix-it” guy and a pair of jilted lovers to the unexpected object of affection . With each different role, Davin showcases his versatility, oft aided by the donning of various winteresque wardrobe pieces courtesy the show’s costume designer, Perryman. Of Davin’s myriad of roles, highlights include the top of Act 2 in the vignette titled They Fell, in which two friends literally and figuratively fall for each other. While the physicality of the scene is absurd and laugh-inducing, the sweetness of the message is clear. Brilliant in each of his five vignettes, Davin is also most notable in Story of Hope, in which a young woman appears at Davin’s door looking for an old boyfriend. It takes a while, but she eventually realizes that’s exactly what she’s found. If the message of lost hope doesn’t ring true, you’ve never wondered what would have been had you made a decision other than the one you did.
Speaking of Hope, Jenna Pryor plays Hope opposite Davin in the aforementioned scene, and she does so with realized regret and, dare I say it, hope of rectifying a past mistake.
Anyone who follows Pryor or director Moore on social media knows these two are friends off the stage as well as on. Their real-life chemistry aids their performances in the show’s Prologue, the only story that continues throughout the show, as it picks up at the top of Act 2 in the Interlogue and wraps at show’s end with the Epilogue. In this vignette, Pryor plays Ginette, a love-struck young girl who can’t get close enough to the man she admires, Moore’s Pete. In the Prologue, while Ginette points out how close they are, Pete resists, explaining a seemingly scientific distance between them. A though-provoking ideal of difference in perception, and perhaps a little unwillingness to let nature take its course. I’ve commented in previous reviews of Pryor’s stage work that she has the look of a Disney princess, but is equally adept at playing roles containing both sugar and spice. It’s that deceptive sweetness with an ever-present under-current of just a touch of mischief that makes her variety of roles in this piece enjoyable whether she’s on the giving or receiving end of love or loss. Getting It Back in which Pryor plays a young women who approaches her boyfriend to get back all the love she has given him over the years has a lovely surprise twist at the end and the evolution of the piece allows Pryor to showcase her above-mentioned range.
Following the Prologue, Perryman and Davin open the show as Glory and East in the vignette titled Her Heart. Metaphor meets reality when a women who carries her broken heart in a bag wanders into the back yard of Davin’s previously alluded fix-it man. Can he fix her broken heart? Does she want it fixed? Those are only two of the questions this plot addresses. This vignette also serves to introduce a recurring kiss theme peppered throughout the show. Sometimes timid and sweet, often a surprise, the kisses quickly become a “will they or won’t they?” element the audience waits for in each segment.
Perryman is captivating in all her depictions. Even as the waitress in Sad and Glad, which features Moore and Pryor as exes who happen upon each other at a popular bar. While Moore and Pryor attempt to reconnect/disconnect, respectively, Perryman’s waitress pops in from time to time just checking on things, but even with such limited and limiting lines, she’s a scene-stealer.
Of her features narratives, Perryman is great as Marci, opposite Davin’s Phil as a married couple coming to terms with the end of their relationship while out for a seemingly innocent night of skiing under the northern light in the segment called Where It Went. Another literal and figurative interpretation of another popular adage, “waiting for the other shoe to drop” figures nicely here. Perryman is equally enjoyable as Marvalyn opposite Moore’s Steve in This Hurts, a tale of a man who feels no pain. No pain, that is, until Marvalyn’s unexpected love for him literally smacks him upside the head.
The two share a similar, yet different unexpected blossoming of affections in Seeing the Thing, the show’s final tale. Perryman plays Rhonda, a guys-gal who works with the boys and therefore sees herself as one of them. Moore’s Dave sees things in a different light. The lesson of seeing things differently is brought to life by a gift from Dave to Rhonda, a piece of art that has to be looked at differently to see the true message. To me, this is the playwrights strongest piece, or maybe it’s just ultra-relatable.
Like the rest of his cast, Moore seamlessly morphs from vignette to vignette, character to character. From his first appearance in the Prologue, in which he wears a stocking cap, to playing Jimmy in the aforementioned Sad and Glad, in which his hair seemed perfectly coiffed, to immediately playing Steve in This Hurts, where his hair seems messy and unkempt, Moore truly presents differently as each character he embodies. These changes also prove another prime example of Perryman’s precision and knowledge of how wardrobe can effectively change an actor’s appearance.
As the show’s director, Moore’s staging, while simplistic and unencumbered by lavish set pieces, is flawless, drawing the audience’s eye to and from various parts of the stage while keeping focus on the playwrights clever dialogue. He also takes full advantage of the venue’s intimate space by incorporating more than a couple of entrances and exits via the stairs that run to the back of the house, allowing the audience to be physically close to the action from time to time, a subtle but effective tool drawing the audience in and reminding us all that these stories. They are almost certainly relatable to each and every audience member, for who hasn’t been smacked upside the head by cupid’s arrow? Who hasn’t stuck out a bad relationship waiting for the final shoe to drop? Who hasn’t felt like they’ve lost hope? Who hasn’t been so in love they just couldn’t see it? Who hasn’t fallen in love?
Chaffin’s presentation of Almost, Maine wraps its limited run at Darkhorse Theater with two shows Saturday. All tickets for Almost, Maine are $16/General Admission. Click Here to purchase. You may also purchase tickets by calling 615.646.9977 or in person at Darkhorse Theatre half-an-hour prior to showtime.
Up next for Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre, their Second Annual Clash of the Playwrights competition, in which entrants have the chance of submitting their original work to be produced during the Barn’s upcoming Fall season. Click Here for full details. Deadline for submission is May 31. Once renovations at the Barn are complete, the action returns to Nashville’s favorite dinner theatre venue with an encore engagement of last season’s hit musical Sister Act with performances August 2-August 25. Click Here as the date approaches for tickets or more info.To keep up with the latest news from Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre, check them out online, on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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