"Almost, Maine" - by John Cariani - Stratton Players (Fitchburg, MA.) - REVIEW

(Cover Photo: Pam Sontag and David Foster in the "Prologue" of John Cariani's "ALMOST, MAINE" presented by Stratton Players in Fitchburg, MA. now playing through June 15, 2024. Photo Credit Jennifer Knight)

By Kevin T. Baldwin

METRMAG Reviewer

# 774-242-6724

“The Northern Lights are really the torches that the recently departed carry with them so they can find their way to Heaven…”

                                     - ("Woman") / John Cariani

Stratton Players

Presents John Cariani's


Written by John Cariani

Directed by Andy DeSisto

Cast Includes: David Foster as "Pete" and "Lendall," Pam Sontag as "Ginette," David Nestelbaum as "East" and "Man," Carolyn Salter as "Glory" and "Shelly," John Hanlon as "Jimmy" and "Dave," Kathleen O'Connor as "Sandrine," "Gayle" and "Deena," Jillian Reid as "Waitress," "Marcie" and "Rhonda," Juliana and Dakota Menard as "Mervalyn" and "Steve," Cheryl Carter-Miller as "Hope." 


June 7, 2024 through June 15, 2024

(Contact Box Office for Exact Times)  

Christ Church, 569 Main Street, Fitchburg, MA. 

For Tickets Contact the Box Office at # 978-345-6066 or via email at strattonplayers@gmail.com


Contact Venue for Most Updated COVID-19 Safety Protocols and Information.   

(Note: The following review is of a final dress rehearsal held on 06-05-2024) 

Stratton Players returns with the partially absurdist yet always clever "ALMOST, MAINE" now playing entirely at Christ Church on Main Street in Fitchburg, MA.

"ALMOST, MAINE" is an anthology of vignettes - part reality, part fantasy, with one foot solidly placed on the Maine terrain and the other placed far up into the Northern Lights

The ensemble delivers a marvelously cohesive performance.

The show, written by John Cariani, is set on a cold, clear, moonless night in the middle of winter in the ‘almost town’ appropriately named “Almost” in Maine, and intertwines nine short vignettes, ‘northern exposing’ several relationships. 

A lot of Cariani's humor is derived from taking certain expressions that one might assume are figures of speech (or flights of fancy) and, instead, taking them quite literal (like "broken heart" or "falling in love", for examples).

There is a sweetness, a quaint charm to Cariani’s script notes, but the playwright issues a caution on how to approach the material, stating cute will kill this play,” advising to instead approach without trying to make the material more than what it is. 

That is just what the fine cast at Stratton has done here with exceptional results. 

Under the discerning direction of Andy DeSisto, there is a balance between verisimilitude and imagination with "ALMOST, MAINE" which uses only the most minimal of set pieces and props. 

(Photo: Pam Sontag and David Foster in the "Prologue" of John Cariani's "ALMOST, MAINE" presented by Stratton Players in Fitchburg, MA. now playing through June 15, 2024. Photo Credit Jennifer Knight)

Most scenes work, one or two not so much, but all are quite charismatic, containing an element of the delightfully preposterous. 

If you can sit back and accept this from the outset, you'll enjoy the show much more completely. 

It is also fun listening and picking up on how some of the characters in "ALMOST, MAINE" do connect from vignette to vignette. 

When Cariani’s material truly clicks, the resulting scenes are quite extraordinary. 

Starting off with “The Prologue, featuring David Foster and Pam Sontag and which continues as an “Interlogue” and “Epilogue,” the concept immediately sets the overall quirky tone of the show. 

The duo has a kindly, demure quality together on stage, which makes us look forward to seeing them again later on. 

The first full vignette, entitled “Her Heart,” features David Nestelbaum as a repairman named "East" who finds a strange hiker, "Hope" (Carolyn Salter) camped out on his front lawn. 

The woman is hoping to see the Northern Lights as a form of therapy to (literally) mend her broken heart and, in a more peculiar way, of honoring her late husband who died an even more peculiar death. 

The scene moves quite well and Nestelbaum and Salter are both engaging. 

(Photo: David Nestelbaum as a repairman who finds a strange hiker, played by Carolyn Salter, on his property in “Her Heart” from John Cariani's "ALMOST, MAINE" presented by Stratton Players in Fitchburg, MA. now playing through June 15, 2024. Photo Credit Jennifer Knight)

Moving into “Sad and Glad, featuring Jimmy (John Hanlon), Sandrine (Kathleen O’Connor) and a Waitress (Jillian Reid), the scene is set in a local bar in town, where Sandrine is in the middle of her bachelorette party when she runs into her old boyfriend, Jimmy. 

The unusual aspect of the encounter involves a tattoo typo which later provides a sweet, ‘Almost“O Henry” or Rod Serling twist at the end. 

Hanlon and O'Connor are good at displaying the estranged nature of the former couple while Reid is effective as the rambunctious waitress at the bar. 

“Getting It Back” is the first act closer with Gayle (Kathleen O’Connor) who seeks to return all the love she has physically received from Lendall (David Foster), her boyfriend of 11 years. 

This is one of those times in "ALMOST, MAINE" when you really have to buy into the absurd.

When she asks him to return his love, as well, she is absolutely stunned by his resulting reciprocation. 

Literally one of the ‘fall down’ funniest segments written by Cariani is “They Fell” which involves two friends – Shelley (Carolyn Salter) and Deena (Kathleen O’Connor) - who go ice fishing. 

The duo try to one-up each other with their tales of romantic woes with unexpected, and utterly alarming, results. 

Turning more serious is “Where It Went” about a long-married couple – Phil (Andrew DeSisto) and Marcie (Jillian Reid) - trying to recapture some of the tenderness they first shared by going skating. 

The couple shares an intensity on stage as they reveal various hard truths about their failing relationship which is perfectly punctuated when ‘the other shoe’ literally drops. 

(Photo: John Hanlon as "Jimmy" sits with Kathleen O’Connor as "Sandrine" and Jillian Reid as their "Waitress" in “Sad and Glad from John Cariani's "ALMOST, MAINE" presented by Stratton Players in Fitchburg, MA. now playing through June 15, 2024. Photo Credit Jennifer Knight)

In the “Story of Hope” we see a reunion of childhood sweethearts – Hope (Cheryl Carter-Miller) and Man (David Nestelbaum) - who meet many years later…or is it later that same night? 

It is a tender segment in which Cariani explores life choices and the roads taken - or not - and both Carter-Miller and Nestelbaum do quite well with the material. 

The show’s closing vignette, “Seeing the Thing, features two coworkers  - Rhonda (Jillian Reid) and Dave (John Hanlon) - who return from a fun time snowmobiling.

As they unwind, Dave tries to profess his affection for his longtime “pal” which proves to be challenging. 

Determined, he provides her with an unusual gift, an abstract painting of his own making, to try and ‘melt the ice’ and break through her tough façade. 

(Photo: Jillian Reid as "Marcie" with Andrew DeSisto as "Phil" in "Where It Went" from John Cariani's "ALMOST, MAINE" presented by Stratton Players in Fitchburg, MA. now playing through June 15, 2024. Photo Credit Jennifer Knight)

Reid and Hanlon provide many big laughs throughout the scene. 

Regardless of whether segments are played sentimental, romantic, with great humor or with great sadness, the material comes across with genuine warmth thanks to an admirable cast. 

The use of the proscenium curtain for some scene changes occasionally seemed unnecessary and actually served to slow down some of the transitions.

Being a dress rehearsal and working with a new sound system, not all of the technical cues and scene transitions were as polished as they could have been but overall the show flowed quite well. 

The strength of Cariani's text and the collective performances is what makes "ALMOST, MAINE" so enjoyable and the Stratton Playersproduction clearly shows why it is such a favorite to stage by multiple theatre groups - it is simply a fun and endearing show.

Stratton Players'  "ALMOST, MAINE" continues at Christ Church, 569 Main Street in Fitchburg, MA. until June 15th and during these warmer days this is one cool road trip definitely worth taking.

Approximately two hours with one intermission.  

Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)




A woman carries her heart, broken into nineteen pieces, in a small paper bag. 

A man shrinks to half his former size, after losing hope in love. 

A couple keep the love they have given each other in large red bags, or compress the mass into the size of a diamond. 

These playful and surreal experiences are commonplace in the world of John Cariani’s "ALMOST, MAINE" where on one deeply cold and magical Midwinter Night, the citizens of ALMOST - not organized enough for a town, too populated for a wilderness - experience the life-altering power of the human heart. 

Relationships end, begin, or change beyond recognition, as strangers become friends, friends become lovers, and lovers turn into strangers. 

Propelled by the mystical energy of the aurora borealis and populated with characters who are humorous, plain-spoken, thoughtful, and sincere, "ALMOST, MAINE" is a series of loosely connected tales about love, each with a compelling couple at its center, each with its own touch of sorcery. (STAGEAGENT)   


STRATTON PLAYERS continues to provide a creative outlet for men and women interested in any aspect of play production, whether it be acting, costuming, set design or construction, publicity, stage management, or tickets. 


98 Prospect Street

Fitchburg, Massachusetts 01452

Phone # 978-345-6066