New Haven Theater Company’s last production, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, was about life, love and death in a small New England town.
The company’s new show—Almost, Maine, opening Thursday—is about life and love, and rather less about death, in a small New England town.
Most of the cast of Almost, Maine also populated Our Town. The woman who played the Stage Manager in that Thornton Wilder classic, Megan Chenot, is co-directing John Cariani’s popular “real romantic comedy” alongside another Our Town actor, Margaret Mann.
“Our Town was a special kind of success for us—not just critically; it brought us closer as a company. We’re, joyous, happy to be together again. We’re trying to make this a whole evening of warmth and joy.”
“What’s different,” Chenot explains, “is that Our Town was a huge ensemble.” Some scenes involved the whole dozen-strong cast. By contrast, Almost, Maine has only a couple of people in each scene. “The script,” Chenot says, “says you can do it with as few as four, or as many as 19. We’re using eight people, so we’re right in the middle of that.” The cast includes staunch NHTC company members Steve Scarpa, Peter Chenot, Christian Shaboo and Erich Greene plus Anna Klein, Deena Nicol, Mallory Pellegrino and Jenny Schuck. All but Schuck and Klein were in Our Town.
There’s definitely some special momentum to this production. The current New Haven Theater Company ensemble (latest of several distinct phases of the company, which originated at the BAR nightclub in the mid-1990s) has been doing just a couple of shows a year on average; last year the company had a crisis when the rights to do Donald Margulies’ Shipwrecked was taken away from them days before their production was scheduled to go up, because another Connecticut company had suddenly expressed interest in doing the same script.
Now there’s an upswing, a new freneticism. Almost, Maine falls less than two months after Our Town, with further shows planned for springtime.
Almost, Maine also furthers the strong relationship that’s developed between NHTC and the English Building Markets, who’ve allowed the troupe the use of their back room to perform both Our Town and Almost, Maine. NHTC has done the itinerant, site-specific thing in the past (David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross in a bank building, Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio in the CT UltraRadio studio) but also had a home for several years in a storefront at 118 Court Street, now occupied by Luck & Levity Brewshop.
Two shows in the same location, with many of the same faces, shows stability and sense of purpose. As for English Building Market, Chenot says “They’re happy to have us. It’s a really good relationship.” The antique shop will be serving hot cider at Almost, Maine performances to help nail that play’s chilly New England environment. There’s also an organized effort to collect winter clothing for the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, and blankets and pet food for the Purr Project and Animal Haven.
Other than that ambience, the show’s set is reportedly relatively sparse (not unlike Our Town). “It’s so close up,” Chenot says of the performance area. It’s just fun to watch. Cariani writes characters who are constantly talking over each other, overlapping their words when they speak. It leads to these incredibly awkward, funny moments. It’s just really funny.”
Almost, Maine plays November 14-16 and 21-23 at 8 p.m. at the English Building Markets, 839 Chapel Street, New Haven. http://www.newhaventheatercompany.com/