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Andrew Nurmi, in the role of Dave, and Grace Guthrie, as Rhonda, rehearse their scene, "Seen the Thing," in which Rhonda searches for a word to describe something she saw on the road. photo by Renee Landuyt.

September 05, 2013
There's old love, there's new love, there's happy love, there's blue love. In Grosse Pointe North High School's fall production of "Almost, Maine," magic — and an aurora borealis — is in the air during a cold, winter night in Almost, Maine, as residents of the make-believe town fall in and out of love in the strangest ways.

"The theme, really, of all of (the stories) is love, in various ways," North's director Sean Kifer said of the John Cariani-penned romantic comedy, which is told through 10 individual scenes, like vignettes, all of which end with the occurrence of an aurora borealis, lending magic and mystique to the scenes' final moments.

"We really wanted it to have an impact because it ends every single scene, and it's supposed to be the event that causes the weirdness and the love, whether it's good or bad."

To enhance the borealis's effect, Kifer and technical director Dan Vicary opted for an all white theme, with white flooring and white furniture against a starry night backdrop. "We thought it would pick up better on white," Kifer said. "We're using a white with also a red effect. Every scene has just one item that's red. It's kind of the item that's the turning point in the love relationship."

Each love relationship plays out over the course of its own 10- to 15-minute scene and involves two characters, three at most.

Having so few actors on stage at any given time not only afforded Kifer more time to work with students on acting skills, character development and other such practices, but also the opportunity to present the play in a more intimate setting, giving students an acting experience like nothing to which they were accustomed.

With "Almost, Maine," the audience watches from on stage rather than in the Grosse Pointe Performing Arts Center's traditional seats.

"I wanted to do something like this to give the kids a different experience as far as acting in a different type of space besides a proscenium stage," said Kifer, in his first year as director at North. He has directed plays at Parcells Middle School the past eight years.

"It's different in the sense that they're used to acting a certain way on a proscenium stage," he continued. "In this kind of setting, that doesn't work because you're going to turn your back on way too much of the audience. The first couple rehearsals were, they were very uncomfortable with it."

Despite their initial discomforts during the first rehearsals in July, the 12 actors performing have embraced the idea of such an intimate setting.

"I like that we'll get to be a lot closer to the audience, it's almost even more like movie acting in that they'll be able to see a lot more of the nuance in our facial expressions, and we won't need to show our enthusiasm with faces that are slightly over the top," said Pearce Reickert, a senior.

"The different set-up, when they said that we were doing it on stage with the people on the stage, I was really skeptical and really confused," said Analisa Guido, a senior. "But this is turning out really, really cool."

In 2010, "Almost, Maine" was the most produced play in high school, unseating Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," according to Dramatics Magazine, marking the first time since 1937 a Shakespeare play hadn't made the top spot.

North's opening performance of "Almost, Maine" is at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, with additional shows at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22. All shows are at the Grosse Pointe Performing Arts Center.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students and are available online at gpndramaclub.webs.com or at Wild Birds Unlimited, 20381 Mack in Grosse Pointe Woods.

In addition to Kifer and Vicary, PJ Veltri is the lighting coordinator and Sheri Kam the costume designer.

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