Vignette-focused fall play offers varied perspectives on love

November 16, 2023 — by Alan Cai and Divya Vadlakonda
Courtesy of SHS Drama
“Almost, Maine” introduces a uniquely-formatted play through an exhilarating series of romantic comedy vignettes.
“Almost, Maine” introduces a uniquely-formatted play through an exhilarating series of romantic comedy vignettes.

The lights of the McAfee Center dimmed as junior Apollo Burgess, playing the role of the energetic Jimmy, ran into his aloof ex-girlfriend Sandrine, played by junior Annaliese Shab, at a bar. The catch: Sandrine was engaged with another man and was celebrating her bachelorette party at that moment. 

It took a moment for Jimmy to realize what was going on, and when he does, the two awkwardly part, likely to never see each other again.

The tense moment was a key moment in one of eight continuous vignettes from the drama department’s fall play “Almost, Maine,” which was performed on Nov. 11, 12, 16, 17 and 18.

The first and second shows filled about 150 and 40 out of the 569 seats respectively — a low turnout on opening weekend that junior Nila Venkaratnam, who played Marvalyn, expected. 

“Our opening night was on a 3-day weekend, which affected the turnout,” Venkataratnam said. “We also advertised a bit later than usual, which might have affected how many people showed up on opening weekend.”

“Almost, Maine” is among the more unusual productions that the drama department has done in recent years: Rather than depicting a linear timeline, it presents eight different vignettes. The production takes place in a fictional town called Almost, Maine and portrays a different love story between two different characters in each vignette.

Ever since the first day of auditions, drama director Ben Brotzman knew that this year’s fall play would be different.

“‘Almost, Maine’ is unique because it is very similar to what many people are going through in their own lives,” Brotzman said. “The play not only reflects many of the feelings we experience when spending time with significant others but also applies to how we treat our parents, friends and siblings.”

Throughout rehearsals, Brotzman noticed the talent the actors brought to the table as well as their ability to adapt to the niches their roles demanded.

Senior Ashley Henry, who placed Marci, agreed with his assessment, saying: “Everyone really fit into their role very well and we formed a very tight-knit community as the months progressed. I want to shout out my acting partner, Ariana Tootoonchi [who played as Gayle and as Phil] for being such an outstanding actor every moment of the way.”

The eight vignettes featured multiple actors playing different roles: In “Her Heart,” senior Caitlin Weber played East and sophomore Mia Ouchida played Glory; in “Sad and Glad,” Burgess played Jimmy and Shab played Sandrine; in “This Hurts,” junior Katie Berger played Steve and sophomore Nila Venkataratnam played Marvalyn; in “Getting it Back,” senior Ariana Tootoonchi played Gayle and senior Ryan Cagliostro played Lendall; in “They Fell,” sophomore Ananya Ravi played Deena and sophomore Melani James played Shelley; in “Where it Went,” Tootoonchi played Phil and Henry played Marci; in “Story of Hope,” senior Ella Tamas-King played Hope and senior Arceli Lublinerman played Danny; in “Seeing the Thing,” senior Vivienne Brooks played Rhonda and junior Cosmo Cooper played Dave. 

The prologue, interlogue and epilogue scenes were placed throughout the play, with sophomore Patrick Keough as Pete and sophomore Ria Abraham as Ginette.

The unconventional yet impactful style of the play received acclaim from audience members after the curtains closed.

“The abstractness is something we haven’t seen a lot in plays,” said junior Aiden Chen, who attended a performance. “Some of the sillier moments and plays on words were very well-executed.”

The modern timeframe and pacing of the dialogue allowed the audience to relate more to what was happening on stage, with them empathizing with the more touching moments and laughing at the humorous ones.

Though Brotzman served as overall director, many aspects of the play’s production were handled by students. “Almost, Maine” was led by senior stage manager Arushi Maheshwar, assistant stage manager Ryan Cagliostro and junior assistant director Rylee Stanton. 

While Stanton directed three out of the eight vignettes — “This Hurts,” “Sad and Glad” and “Getting it Back” — Maheshwar and Cagliostro oversaw stage blocking, prop, scenic, audio and costume notes.

“[The job] is definitely time consuming, but [it is] worth it because of the sense of community we all have while putting something out to the world that we’re all proud of,” Stanton said.

The cast members also appreciated the student-led nature of the production.

“I feel like students are able to learn more hands on what it’s like to direct or stage manage a play, and it’s a really good learning opportunity,” Venkataratnam said. 

However, due to the production only having two actors per vignette, many actors did not participate in recurring scenes outside of their own. This took a toll on attendance, as some cast members didn’t have to be around while others were rehearsing.

Nevertheless, Venkataratnam said the second show was among the strongest that the drama department has seen in recent years in terms of acting performance.

“It’s made me have to work as an actor in a different way and pretend like it is an everyday conversation even if I’m on the stage,” Venkataratnam said. “I feel like it’s opened my eyes to how playwriting has no bounds.”

Tags: drama
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