Don’t You Forget About Me // by Kelly McAndrew
A group of Fortysomethings find a bond for life and in the process, put on a play.
Five Gen Xers Walk Into A Rehearsal Room; or How We Made ALMOST, MAINE
In 2004, I had an audition for a new play that was being produced off-Broadway called Almost, Maine. It was by John Cariani whom I didn’t know but had seen in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway that season. His performance in Fiddler (he played Motel the Tailor) was beautiful and hilarious and heartbreaking and he reminded me of Kermit the Frog…in the best way possible.
I didn’t know he was a playwright, so I was excited to see what kind of writer this vivacious and heartfelt performer was. Turned out, he was a vivacious and heartfelt writer as well. Almost, Maine tells the story of about two dozen ordinary folks in a town in Maine so small it doesn’t even really qualify as a town. A place that, on a map, is only its latitude and longitude coordinates and is dubbed “Almost” by the locals who live there. Over the course of one cold, snowy Maine night we follow the lives and loves and losses of these two-dozen people in this “almost” town. I loved it. I loved every one of those weird, sad, beautiful, funny souls. Four actors would get to play all the characters. I wanted this job SO BAD.
I didn’t get it. (One of my dearest friends, Miriam Shor, got it instead and she was annoyingly good in it. So…there’s that.) But an incredible thing happened. Through auditioning, I got to meet that vivacious and heartfelt performer and playwright, John Cariani. And it turned out he was a vivacious and heartfelt human. And we became friends. I’m still not sure how it happened. I was only in the audition and callback for a matter of minutes. But that’s the thing about John. His energy and heart pull you in and suddenly you have a new friend and a future collaborator.
Cut to October 2013: I’m rehearsing a benefit for Provincetown Cares when I get a call from John. Transport Group is producing a revival of Almost, Maine. Jack Cummings III is directing. The cast is Donna Lynne Champlin, Kevin Isola, and John Cariani (seriously, he referred to himself as John Cariani. It was so cute.) Did I want to do it with them?
JOHN: I haven’t even told you the dates and the contract…the money—
ME: I don’t care. Yes. YES!
Turns out it paid 350 dollars a week and we had a rehearsal on New Year’s Eve. So maybe the YES! became more of a … yes.
Cut to November 2013: I’m in a rehearsal room in midtown. Donna Lynne and I are wearing elbow and kneepads learning how to fall directly to the floor while still maintaining eye contact. I’m tossing bags filled with God knows what at Kevin telling him I’m “giving him his love back.” I’m trying to figure out how to let John know I’m getting married to someone else in the kindest, quickest way possible. There’s so much laughter. There’s so much frustration (cuz comedy is HARD y’all). But mostly, and most importantly, there is a constant stream of ‘80s pop culture references. Jack and Kevin and Donna Lynne and John and I are all children of the ‘70s who went to high school in the ‘80s. There is not a single movie, tv, or song reference that we don’t all immediately get. We are the first Trapper Keeper generation. We can quote every single John Hughes film. We love OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) and Flock of Seagulls and A-ha (and not ironically). We know all the words to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (totally ironically). And yes, we’re rehearsing the play but even more than that we are building an ensemble, one that will last. Theatre has always been my home. It has given me my cherished chosen family. But this is different. This is that perfect storm, that lightning in a bottle. And I don’t want it to end.
Cut to a few days ago: The Almost, Maine Text Thread is on its sixth anniversary. We’ve all done more plays with other theaters and with Transport Group. Some of us have gotten married, some of us have had children. Donna Lynne went to Los Angeles for four years and was on a tv show. But that thread, has never faltered. We have political discussions and debates. We vent and dish about the business and lift each other up when we are low. Jack has become a master with GIFs. And the ‘80s references still fly. The last ones were about the fact that Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was actually a cover of a song and it was written by a MAN!!! The important stuff, y’all.
I’ve been thinking about Almost, Maine a lot during this crazy time we’re in. How funny it is that I didn’t get to do it in its first incarnation. That fate and circumstance (and Miriam Shor’s annoying talent) brought me instead to the revival and this amazing confluence of Gen Xers and comedic geniuses. I also think about the fact that we all seemed to recognize how lucky we were while it was happening, and I think we all knew we would probably never see its like again.
One of the characters I got to play in Almost, Maine was Hope. Hope is the only character who’s left the town of Almost. The night in which the play takes place, Hope returns. She needs to see her high school boyfriend who asked her to marry him before she left for college. She didn’t say no. She didn’t say anything, actually. So, she’s come back, years later, to give him an answer. She needs to answer his question. The scene between the two is funny, poignant, and heartbreaking; a Cariani classic. He’s married now and she doesn’t get to give him his answer. But after he goes back inside his house, Hope has a moment of reflection so she can at least answer the question for herself.
Hope exits slowly. Leaving Almost. Full of regret and longing.
I’m so damn glad I immediately said … yes.
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