John Cariani’s Almost, Maine Is Back at Portland Stage

The ever-popular play has romance, comedy, and drama — and a lot Presque Isle.

Almost Maine
By Will Grunewald

The script for Almost, Maine was, John Cariani admits, “not hip and not cool.” In 2004, Portland Stage premiered it anyway. “The material felt like it was really about this state,” artistic director Anita Stewart says. “A love song to Maine.” The play — a series of vignettes about the need for human connection, inspired by the humans Cariani grew up with in Presque Isle — has enjoyed lasting popularity. It’s one of the country’s most-produced high-school plays every year, and Cariani recently adapted it as a novel (out March 31). Now, it’s returning to Portland Stage for the first time, with Cariani, a Tony-nominated actor, in the cast. 

ROMANCE. “I like love stories for people who aren’t hot,” Cariani says. And though he wrote the play with twenty- and thirtysomethings in mind, he and his fellow actors in this production are middle-aged. “Told through older bodies and minds and souls, it’s really heartbreaking,” he says. “You’ve been beat up. You’ve lost more. You’re running out of chances.”

DRAMA. Places like Presque Isle “are nowhere in theater,” Cariani says, while his adopted hometown, New York City, is everywhere. (Note: Presque is French for almost.) “I wanted to write about working people, who navigate all the same complicated ideas and feelings as well-to-do people even though well-to-do people sometimes think they’ve cornered that market.” 

COMEDY. Over the years, reviewers have called the play “hilarious,” “whimsical,” and “wonderfully weird,” but Cariani took care to earn his laughs honestly. “A lot of my friends from northern Maine thought the play was going to poke fun at them,” he says, “because people in rural places are used to being made fun of. Almost, Maine takes those people seriously.”

Jan. 15–Feb. 9. 25 Forest Ave., Portland.