From the left, John Cariani, Kathy McCafferty, Samantha Rosentrater and Raymond McAnally play multiple roles in “Almost, Maine” at Portland Stage. Photo by Mical Hutson

Love is in the air in Portland. Just be sure you don’t get frostbite reaching for it.

Portland Stage has opened a production of the Presque Isle-raised playwright-actor John Cariani’s popular “Almost, Maine” and, as if on cue, deep January cold arrived on opening night. No big problem, though. The warmth coming from the stage made the journey to the theater more than worthwhile.

The author’s magical tale of love out under the big skies of northern Maine, told through a series of related vignettes, has become a contemporary classic since it premiered here in 2004. This latest production, directed by Sally Wood, succeeds in capturing Cariani’s affection for his characters and their place in the world. The play’s balance of light comedy (both verbal and physical) and heavier romance comes across clearly and makes for a very entertaining time at the theater.

Raymond McAnally, Kathy McCafferty and Samantha Rosentrater join the author in taking on multiple roles. From slow simmers to fast falls, their character’s relationships charm even if they sometimes take unexpected turns.

Playwright John Cariani and Kathy McCafferty in Portland Stage’s revival of “Almost, Maine.” Photo by Mical Hutson

A broken heart leads a camper into the arms of a landowner under northern lights. A man crosses paths with an ex-lover at a bar only to start a sort of coincidental romance with an understanding waitress.  An oddly insensitive man overcomes fear when he is opened to the “pain” of love by an unhappy wife.

Bags seem to appear often as containers of love given and taken or as indicators of journeys of reconciliation attempted. One contains a painting that, if deciphered, might finally break the ice between bundled-up snowmobilers.

McAnally is often the big guy with the big heart that’s hard to hide. McCafferty’s the put-upon sweetheart. Rosentrater’s the in-charge woman waking to new opportunities and Cariani is the good buddy who’s slightly puzzled, though not deterred, by the strength of his emotions. Within their roles, each performer finds a way to be relatable, even if their responses are often exaggerated to fit the slightly surreal atmosphere of the play.

With trees that drop from the rafters, benches that go round, winter clothes that come, memorably, off and lights and sounds that take us way into the woods, the work of the design staff (Anita Stewart, Bryon Winn, Kathleen P Brown and Chris Fitze), along with some playful stage management (Shane Van Vliet), adds much to this show’s return to the place from whence it came.

Note: Due to a scheduling conflict, Cariani will be replaced from Feb. 5 to 7 by local favorite Dustin Tucker.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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