John Cariani doesn’t make a habit of stopping by productions of his charming play “Almost, Maine,” but he’ll make an exception on Saturday when he visits Nyack’s Elmwood Playhouse to see the show and take part in a post-show Q&A.
“Peter Danish is involved with the show and he’s a friend of mine and a good guy and he asked so I’m coming to Nyack,” the playwright and 2004 Tony nominee said. “I’ve seen school productions and professional productions, but I don’t know that I’ve seen a community-theater production of it. This’ll be among the first. I hope they do a good job.”
The play, about the inhabitants of a fictional far-north town, is all about love: finding it, losing it, falling in and out of it. Told in a series of short character sketches with a mystical element, “Almost, Maine” is a wildly popular choice for theater troupes large and small.
Briarcliff’s Hudson Stage did a remarkable job with it in 2008 and it is all over the Lower Hudson Valley these days: At Elmwood (where it runs through Feb. 4, directed by Alison Costello) and — in a free, touring production presented by M&M Productions, directed by Larry Schneider — at libraries from Eastchester (Jan. 22) to Ossining (Feb. 16) to Orangeburg (April 15).
“Dramatists Play Service (which handles performance rights to the show) said it’s one of their most-produced plays, behind ‘The Crucible’ and ‘Arsenic and Old Lace,’ which is pretty crazy,” Cariani said Wednesday. “And it just got translated into Romanian. It’s been translated into Turkish and German and Spanish and French and Korean.”
Cariani’s post-show talkback will be moderated by Elmwood member Steve Taylor.
The playwright, a regular on the satirical Onion News Network, might also be familiar to eagle-eyed Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival patrons: A dozen years ago, he spent two summers among Terry O’Brien’s company of summer Shakespeareans in Garrison.
His latest play, “Last Gas” — which is also about love and set in Maine — will be performed at Poughkeepsie’s Half Moon Theatre Jan. 28 and 29, directed by Hudson Valley Shakespeare’s associate artistic director, Christopher V. Edwards. The cast includes Stephen Paul Johnson, a festival regular who most recently played Scrooge in a traveling “Christmas Carol” production across the Lower Hudson Valley.
Cariani will be at both performances of “Last Gas,” gauging the audiences’ response to the work and continuing to refine it.
His work on “Almost, Maine” is complete, but he knows how it should be played — and makes no bones about sharing his thoughts with directors and actors. He bookends his “Almost, Maine” script with notes — to actors, directors, set designers — about how it should be presented. There are warnings: against playing the characters as simpletons in funny hats, against using a Southern Maine accent for characters from Northern Maine, against playing these characters as “cute.”
“Cute will kill this play,” he warns.
The notes — and Cariani’s carefully crafted stage directions — are essential to telling the story, the playwright has said.
“I think some writers trust the director to impose the clarity. And I don’t,” he has said. “Some directors enjoy confusing an audience. I don’t.”
Claudia Stefany, who co-produced Elmwood’s production (with Wendy Portnoy), welcomes the playwright’s visit, noting that folks from Elmwood have been in touch with Cariani by phone and email and “he was such a great guy.”
“I think we’re gonna have a ball,” Stefany said.
Where: Elmwood Playhouse, 10 Park St., Nyack.
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 20, 21, 27, 28, Feb. 2, 3 and 4 and at 2 p.m. Jan. 22 and 29.
Tickets: $21; $18 for students and senior citizens except on Saturday.
Web: www.elmwood playhouse.com.
And on tour
M&M Productions presents a separate, touring production of “Almost, Maine,” sponsored by local libraries. The schedule: Eastchester Public Library (Jan. 22); Mount Pleasant Public Library (Jan. 29); Harrison Public Library (Feb. 5); John C. Hart Memorial Library in Shrub Oak (Feb. 12); Ossining Public Library (Feb. 16); Larchmont Village Center (Feb. 26); Greenwich Public Library (March 18); Irvington Public Library (March 24); Hendrick Hudson Free Library (March 25); Orangeburg Public Library (April 15).
What: John Cariani’s new play, “Last Gas.”
When: 8 p.m., Jan. 28; 2 p.m., Jan. 29.
Where: Half Moon Theater, 12 Vassar St., Poughkeepsie.
Call: 845-235-9885; email info@halfmoontheatre. org to reserve seats.
Note: Talk-back session with playwright, director and cast after Jan. 28 performance.
File photo of John Cariani by Matthew Brown/The Journal News; photo of Elmwood’s production of “Almost, Maine” by Jennie Marino: Tory Eletto (left) and Jody Green are Pete and Ginette, who appear in the prologue, interlogue and epilogue of John Cariani’s “Almost, Maine.”