Kernersville Little Theatre returns home to its longtime performance venue when “Almost, Maine” opens Friday night at Kernersville Elementary School’s Fitzpatrick Auditorium.
The popular multi-story play by John Cariani, which premiered in 2004, will be the first live show on the school’s stage since KLT completed its early-2020 “Blithe Spirit,” just before March COVID-19 shutdowns began.
Rachel Schroeder, the community theater’s president, spoke of the reasons for starting the 2021-22 season with this specific play.
“We spent the 2020-21 season completely ‘on the road,’ in unfamiliar venues,” Schroeder said. “We chose ‘Almost, Maine’ because we wanted something that could easily become mobile if needed. This show relies more on the storytelling than any major set elements. It’s simple in theme and message. Simplicity in such a complex time may be a welcome relief for our patrons.”
It’s the play’s simplicity and somewhat magical nature that has proven popular since its first production. Featuring nine short plays, all set in a somewhat mythical small town in Maine, the vignettes about love and loss play out in intimate settings with two actors. Though each character can be played by an individual actor, the cast count can also be compacted — which has worked out well for many theater companies during COVID.
The cast of “Almost, Maine” — in this case, some actors play more than one role — includes Lisa Cooper, Jennifer Graves, Mark Graves, Adam Hincher, Richard Johnson, Esther Mullis, Janea Platt, Tehya Ramey, Rebecca Stanifer and Eli Taylor.
KLT’s “Almost, Maine” is directed by April J’Callahan Mitchell, and Karen Hincher is the stage manager.
“I have seen this show, or bits of it, done in competitions around the nation,” Marshall said. “I wanted to direct it so I could work with the whole piece, and it’s a very sweet show.”
In addition to a long-term involvement with KLT as an actor, director, board member and many other roles in the all-volunteer organization, Marshall has directed multiple programs at her church as well as “Foxfire,” “Harvey” and “The Sunshine Boys” at Stained Glass Playhouse; “Grace and Glorie” at Stained Glass and KLT; and quite recently, “Eleemosynary” for KLT’s outdoors production earlier this year.
“I would say about this play that love takes many angles and turns in our lives, and with these down-to-earth residents of northern Maine, we get to see almost all of them,” Marshall said. Cariani’s stories “are poignant and touching in many different ways.”
The play takes place on a single night in midwinter, as the northern lights play across the sky.
“Almost, Maine” publisher Dramatists Play Service describes the script as being set in “a place that’s so far north, it’s almost not in the United States. It’s almost in Canada. And it’s not quite a town, because its residents never got around to getting organized. So, it almost doesn’t exist.”
On that cold night, the town’s residents “find themselves falling in and out of love in unexpected and hilarious ways. Knees are bruised. Hearts are broken. But the bruises heal, and the hearts mend — almost.”
“This show has been a lot of fun directing with both new and seasoned actors who are bringing their whole selves to the piece,” Marshall said. “We’ve hit a few snags along the way with replacing actors, because health-related issues.”
The frequently-shifting restrictions related to the state of the pandemic make it hard to reach firm decisions for theaters.
“Some of our challenges come with working around COVID standards and policies,” she said. “And they could still change further before the show opens. With matters such as kissing through face masks, it could provide a very different look at theater when all is said and done.”
Schroeder noted that working carefully through all the requirements to return to live, indoor theater has tested virtually every theater production company. While the county’s school system was closed to students, for instance, it also kept KLT locked out of its main venue.
“Reopening during a pandemic really is about keeping focused on ‘the show going on.’ COVID restrictions and safety protocols may change instantly, and it is important that organizations can quickly adjust and pivot to meet those needs,” Schroeder said.
“I think I can easily speak for our board and production teams in that when we are finally producing a show post-COVID, it actually may feel easy compared to the unique obstacles that we have faced over the last 18 months.”