Have you ever been in love? How did you know it was love? What even is love? These are the questions presented in County Seat Theater Company’s upcoming production of the romantic comedy “Almost, Maine.”
Written by John Cariani and directed by Barnum resident Jenn Soukkala, "Almost, Maine" debuts Friday, April 9.
The two-hour show aims to resonate with audience members through an assortment of characters stumbling in and around love in the midwinter setting of Almost — a secluded place in Northern Maine that never quite got organized enough to officially become a town.
The 10-person cast doubles up on roles, as the script is uniquely designed to be performed with as little as four people and as much as 19. Each individual scene is performed with very few actors, presenting quirky tales about the twists and turns of love.
This will be the second in-person performance the company has brought to the stage since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. There will be 40 seats available in the 140-seat theater, with unlimited virtual tickets also available for an online streaming.
“It’s so nice to be opening back up again,” cast member Miriam Effinger said. “There’s nothing like it.”
Effinger and her husband, Josh Effinger, both play multiple characters in the play. Effinger, who has been involved with County Seat Theater since childhood, said her love of theater has served as a social outlet throughout her life.
She and Josh even met during a theater production.
“It feels so good to be back at it,” Effinger said.
The theater crew has been rehearsing “Almost, Maine” about five days a week for a month. General Manager Joel Soukkala said they’ve been extremely cautious in regard to COVID-19, and are planning for many scenarios.
“We’re learning a lot,” he said. “I think we’ve played it pretty safe.”
Masks are worn by cast members off-stage and only removed during performances. Soukkala explained that because “Almost, Maine” is designed to have very few people on the stage at one time, unmasked interaction is very limited.
As is expected with a romantic comedy, there are kissing scenes involved. Soukkala said they planned so that the longest scene of this type takes place between Miriam and Josh Effinger because they are married.
COVID-19 has significantly impacted theater operations everywhere. According to Soukkala, County Seat Theater lost approximately $50,000 in revenue last year.
While parking lot performances, virtual ticket sales and modified in-person shows have helped keep the theater afloat, Soukkala explained that donations and grants were essential in 2020, and will continue to be needed in 2021.
Soukkala said the first show of the year only sold about 50% of the available in-person seats. “Almost, Maine,” however, has already sold out all 40 theater seats for some of the performances.
“It's gonna feel like huge audiences to us,” Soukkala said. “(It’s) really exciting that people are comfortable and ready to come back out.”
Performances of “Almost, Maine” begin Friday and end April 18 at the Encore Performing Arts Center, 2035 Frontage Road, Cloquet. To purchase tickets, visit countyseattheater.com.