TBT show takes whimical approach to the joys and perils of romance

Flickering Northern Lights hold a degree of fascination for many, but in Almost, Maine the fictional setting for Thunder Bay Theatre’s current production this atmospheric phenomenon goes beyond mere natural beauty. On one particular evening in the middle of winter, the Northern Lights create flickers of magic in the hearts and lives of the town’s residents.

Titled “Almost, Maine,” the comedy provides a series of vignettes about love, although sometimes it’s love gone awry rather than the happily-ever-after variety.

The skits also vary in tone. In one goofy scene, two best pals literally fall as in, ouch! in love. In another, actors Nick Hartman and Puja Tolton infuse their scene with a heavy dose of reality when the two young marrieds come to the sobering realization they have fallen out of love with one another.

Written by John Cariani, “Almost, Maine” ran briefly off-Broadway in 2006 and has since become one of the most-produced works in the United States. TBT Artistic Director Kevin Reams opted to give several different cast members the chance to direct individual scenes within the show, although he took directing charge of a number of them as well.

Many of the vignettes turn on odd or supernatural occurrences like the one where the “other shoe” literally falls from the sky. The show is bookmarked by a young couple sitting on a park bench, trying to make sense of each other. Actors Collin Marshall and Allison Kania allow the vulnerability, confusion and longing of their characters to seep through as these two sweethearts learn what it means to go the distance for love.

Although all of the short scenes are placed in Maine, the atmosphere created by the very effective wintery landscape of the set (pine trees, snow and starry night) and the costuming (think lots of boots, mittens, scarves, hats and parkas) could just as easily make it Northeast Michigan.

“Seeing the Thing,” an amusing scene that features Reams and Nickie Hilton, opens with the revving of snowmobiles before the two come trudging indoors fully clad in snowmobile gear and layers upon layers of clothing. Yep, this could definitely be our neck of the woods.

One of the indoor scenes takes place in a bar where Hartman this time plays a guy who encounters his ex (Hannah Matzke) on the eve of her wedding to someone else. He’s still hurting over losing her, and the tattoo on his arm serves to reminds him of his failure especially since he had the word “villain” incorrectly spelled “villian” when the tattoo was applied. Not to worry though. The strange occurrences happening on this particular night allow him to make a brief connection with the barmaid (AHS foreign exchange student Dorothea Gottschall) whose name coincidentally is Villian.

And so the evening goes. A long-standing couple (Joe Rybarczyk and Kristin Mainka), whose relationship seems to be going nowhere, decides just to give their love back and literally returns it in multiple large red bags. A woman (Hilton) comes to Almost, Maine to see the Northern Lights, literally toting her broken heart in a brown paper bag. Apparently it turned to stone when her husband left her for someone else, but not to worry, the doctors patched her up with an artificial heart.

The show definitely takes a whimsical approach to the joys and perils of romance. It’s lighthearted fun that never veers toward the overly sweet and sappy.

Remaining performances of “Almost, Maine” are this week only, Feb. 13-16. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call the TBT box office at 354-2267.