The Port Townsend High School Players are hitting the stage to open "Almost, Maine" this weekend.
The nine actors and a handful of stage crew members have been working on getting the play — a series of vignettes surrounding the theme of love — ready for their audience.
PTHS seniors Keagan Nordstrom and Hannah Germeau, who are dating off stage, portray both a budding couple and one that has been together for a long time during the scenes titled “Seeing the Thing” and “Getting It Back,” respectively. Those are two of the eight sketches, ranging from dramatic and comedic in tone, portrayed during the runtime of John Cariani's script.
Germeau said “Seeing the Thing” is a challenge because the personality of her character, Rhonda, contrasts with her own. Germeau and Nordstrom describe Rhonda as “tomboyish” and “rude” and she has a difficult time connecting with her feelings. Meanwhile, Nordstrom plays Dave, a caring person who is quite the opposite of Rhonda.
“You have to get to know the character," Germeau said about the process. "You have to figure out who she is, and become her. It was a challenge for me because it's the first time I had to do it. He has a thing for her, but she is really uncomfortable getting in a relationship and ruining the relationship with him. She's insecure because she won't let him in, or will only let him on the porch. She's like an egg with soft insides and a hard shell on the outside. I like the challenge, though. It's been good.”
Nordstrom, who has prior acting experience in last year's “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” in addition to at least six years of improv with “The Psychic Dynasty's” Joey Pipia, is one of the leaders for the group of actors. He intends to continue his stage work after “Almost, Maine,” but he called improv his speciality.
Other “Almost, Maine” performers include PTHS senior Bodie Labrie and underclassmen Gage Barry, Grace Wentzel, Mary Neville, Grace Taracka and Julia Neville. They are supported by actor and trained tech David Smith, plus the backstage crew of Autumn Winsheimer, Kayella Gardner and Rosalyn Salmon.
Throughout the script, symbols such as slashes and hyphens are used to signify where different characters interrupt or talk over each other, adding another challenging layer for the young thespians.
Each scene is tied together with metaphors that represent different kinds of love, like red bags holding something broken, a dropping shoe, a lost soul — even one of its characters.
“They're vignettes, and yet they happen on the same night, tied together by their themes and the people in them,” said Chris Pierson, who has returned to the director's chair after more than decade.
Pierson was drawn back to the stage thanks to the playwright's notes, which read, “The people of Almost, Maine are not cuddly and cute. They are hard-working ordinary people who are dignified, honest, and true. They're not cynical. They're not sarcastic, and they're not glib. But that does not mean they're dumb. They're very smart, but they just take time to wonder about things.”
“Cariani's honest treatment of his subject, his brilliant dialogue, and his wacky sense of humor all combine for a play that is true and fun at the same time,” Pierson said. “It's incredibly difficult to make honest art that is also silly and fun, and this play and our Port Townsend High School actors are going to pull this off. They will teach us about ourselves, our community, and our relationship to the nation as a rural town.”
Nordstrom, who has worked with a few other directors, praised Pierson's style.
“He allows an open-ended sort of way to go about it," he said.
Germeau also gave kudos to Pierson, saying he lets the crew take liberties with the script.
Pierson said he strives to create a workshop-style rehearsal while incorporating improv work to get them more physically involved in their roles.
“I don't see them as puppets or pawns to move around the stage, but rather as co-creators of the experience,” Pierson said. “They're more invested in it that way.”
Pierson was behind the scenes as director or producer for numerous shows at Port Townsend High School between 1999-2005. When he stepped away from directing, he maintained his ability to lead theater by teaching mock trials at the high school. He also taught 11th- and 12th-grade English classes.
“I got into mock trial through drama because the witnesses are, in fact, characters," Pierson said.
He has strived for simplicity with “Almost, Maine.”
“You can hear the dialogue," he said. "It's real."
Pierson was reminded of the importance of “place-based education,” which is to get “students thinking about their world, engaging with community members and learning in real-life contexts," he said. "We should note here that, in the arts, we always are doing place-based education.”
“Almost, Maine,” will be performed at 7 p.m. Nov. 2-3, 9-11 and 16-17 at the Port Townsend High School auditorium. General admission is $10 at the door, $5 for students and seniors and $3 for children younger than 12 years old.