Student-directed play strings love stories

Stars shine brightly in a cold and crisp sky above the snow-sheathed town of Almost, Maine. They shine, too, in the eyes of Almost’s residents, whose love lives are just as colorful and unpredictable as the northern-lights-streaked sky.

This is the setting of Seattle Pacific University’s student-directed One Acts, running Feb. 25 to March 2 at 7:30 p.m. in the studio theatre at McKinley Hall. Senior Stephanie Jo Woods and junior Zachary Christensen are this year’s student directors, each orchestrating four or five scenes organized into two short acts.

“I really enjoyed rehearsing and working with the actors,” Woods said. “Experiencing the collaborative, creative side of acting and directing has been so rewarding.”

Collaboration was on the fast track this year, with rehearsal for Almost, Maine spanning a mere three weeks and the production itself lasting barely an hour. Directors and students agreed, however, that the crash course was a breath of fresh air, stretching their abilities and adding vibrancy and urgency to their performance.

The play, written by John Cariani, was originally intended for four actors – two men and two women – playing a variety of different roles. This production features new performers in each scene, expanding the cast with a wide range of personalities and experience levels and incorporating both freshmen and seniors.

Working with peers as directors has been rewarding for the actors, as well. “It’s casual; it’s informal,” sophomore Connor King said. “I’ve learned so much as an actor through this one-on-one teaching.”

A collection of self-contained vignettes, Almost, Maine opens with an awkward declaration of love from a couple perched precariously and nervously on opposite ends of a park bench.

Next, we meet an itinerant woman setting up camp in an Almost resident’s yard. She’s here to see the northern lights and pay her respects to her late husband, but a series of impromptu kisses and the healing of a broken heart hint she might be here to stay.

“I saw a kind of magic moment in each scene, where two worlds collide and something changes,” Christensen said. “It was an intentional and rewarding process to discover those with the actors.”

Two worlds definitely collide at the Moose Paddy bar, where a broken-up couple accidently reunites at the scene of her bachelorette party. Initially, he’s crushed, but a misspelled tattoo, perky new waitress and free drinks conspire to raise his spirits and suggest he won’t be in the dumps for long.

In the final scene of the first act, an 11-year relationship is on the rocks as the couple returns, in bulky red knapsacks, all the love they’ve given each other. Not to fear though – his takes the form of a small black ring box and the encounter ends in giddy acquiescence.

After intermission, two friends swap beers and stories of disastrous dates until they stumble upon the realization they’re the ones they’re most comfortable with. It’s a hilarious and fresh tumble into love that seems both natural and inevitable.

“We really sought to avoid stereotypes in this scene,” Christensen said. “It’s two real guys drinking beer and swapping stories; they just fall into this thing.”

It’s not so happily-ever-after when a woman shows up on an old boyfriend’s doorstep only to find him married and settled down. Her delay of some years in answering his marriage proposal has caused him to lose hope and move on.

But the final scene leaves us on a blissful note, as the couple who opened the drama on the park bench finally closes the distance and sits cuddled in the cold under a starry Maine sky.

These one acts are a unique contribution to the SPU stage this year as the only production set in a modern context. The romantic faux pas and foibles are intensely relatable, not to mention laugh-out-loud funny. The wrap-around audience seating of the studio theatre brings the actors, quite literally, right into our midst.

As they navigate the bumps and tumbles, the dashed hopes and new beginnings of love, we’re swept up along with them. And while one character argues “people from Maine are different,” here they show us that in love, we’re all – Almost – alike.

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Title: Student-directed play strings love stories | Author: Kelsey Chase | Section: Features | Published Date: 2013-02-27 | Internal ID: 8592