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UMPI hosts Tony-nominated actor in hometown premiere of Almost, Maine John Cariani joins cast in local staging of his highly acclaimed play

Monday, 14 February 2011

Officials at the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI) have announced that the hometown premiere of John Cariani's Almost, Maine, is scheduled for March 18 and 19, at the university's Wieden Auditorium. The performances reunite the production's director, Barbara Frick Ladner and Cariani, in director and actor roles, respectively.

Cariani is no stranger to Presque Isle stages with numerous roles in Presque Isle High School (PIHS)productions; Calamity Jane under the direction of Dan Ladner was Cariani's first high school musical. Other PIHS performances included roles in Grease, Cabaret, The Wizard of Oz, and Juvie. He also performed with university students and community members in Pioneer Playhouse productions of Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, and South Pacific at the university's Wieden Auditorium.

Frick Ladner and Cariani first worked together in 1984 when he played Doody in the high school production of Grease, under her direction. "Today, John is a gifted actor and playwright," said Frick Ladner, "and his Almost, Maine speaks to his love of northern Maine. I'm looking forward to the time when he'll join the cast and me in rehearsal. However, it's a bit scary to be directing a Tony-nominated actor."

Almost, Maine is Cariani's first play. It debuted at the Portland Stage Company in 2004, becoming the most successful play in its history, breaking attendance and box-office records for a play there. The Wall Street Journal also named Portland Stage's production of Almost, Maine one of the best regional theater productions of the 2004-2005 season.

The play is a series of vignettes set on a Friday night in the middle of winter in remote Almost, Maine. With a star-filled northern sky as background, each vignette features two characters falling in or out of love. According to The New York Times, the play is "a whimsical approach to the joys and perils of romance. Magical happenings bloom beneath the snowdrifts. Almost, Maine explores the thunderclap of love and the scorched earth that sometimes follows."

The Presque Isle production is under the experienced direction of Frick Ladner, who is well-known for her work with local high school and community theater productions over the last 27 years. Joe Zubrick, who chaired the UMPI theater department and directed Cariani in productions at the university, will handle the production's set and stage design.

According to Frick Ladner, rehearsals are underway with the nine community thespians, who will join Cariani onstage for the March performances. The local actors are all members of the Presque Isle Community Players. "Several of the actors have multiple roles, which requires a major commitment of time to learn lines and rehearse," noted Frick Ladner, "Our cast members are excited about this unique opportunity to present the play in John's hometown." Cast members include Jeff Ashby, Tamia Glidden, Frank Grant, Debbie Lamont, Tamara Scott, Brian Sipe, Mel Smith, Rod Thompson, and Ginny White.

It has been many years since Cariani performed on the Wieden stage. "I'm excited about joining the Community Players there for the Presque Isle premiere of Almost, Maine," said Cariani. "It's an honor for me to get to do a play with them!"

"We are thrilled to have John and his successful play about mythical Almost, Maine, on our campus," said UMPI President Don Zillman. "It's not every day that we have the opportunity to have a Tony-nominated actor return to our stage in a production of his own play. We truly appreciate the opportunity to host the first performance of Almost, Maine in John's hometown as a kick-off for the university's effort to secure support for renovations to the Wieden Hall auditorium."

Since its 2006 debut off-Broadway, Almost, Maine has been produced throughout the United States over 600 times, including nearly 60 professional theatre company productions. Internationally, the play has been produced in South Korea, Germany, Canada, Dubai, and Australia, with a Spanish-language version scheduled for production in Mexico City.

Almost, Maine was also No. 1 on the list of 2010's most-produced plays in North American high schools according to annual survey results released by Dramatics Magazine in late 2010. Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream was previously No. 1 on the list. Other plays in the top ten include You Can't Take It With You and Our Town.

Cariani graduated from Presque Isle High School in 1987. He studied acting and directing at StageWest in Springfield, Massachusetts, after earning his BA in history from Amherst College. He moved to New York City in 1996 to pursue an acting career, which included working with Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, acting in off-Broadway plays, television commercials and films. In 2002, Cariani joined Law & Order as CSU Tech Julian Beck for 30 episodes.

In 2004, Cariani made his Broadway debut in the revival of Fiddler on the Roof. His performance as Motel the Tailor received the 2004 Outer Critics Circle Award and a 2004 Tony Award nomination. "John the talented young actor in Grease became a star as Motel the Tailor in Fiddler on the Roof," observed Frick Ladner. "He gave a phenomenal performance that thrilled the audience."

Cariani's newest play, Last Gas, premiered at Portland Stage Company in November 2010, where it also set box off records. The play is making its way to New York City. Cariani describes his next play, Love/Sick, as "the flip side" of Almost, Maine. It is currently in development and will premiere at Portland Stage Company during the next couple of years.

Tickets for the Presque Isle performances of Almost, Maine will be available at several locations in Presque Isle, including Goin' Postal, Morning Star Art and Framing, and the university beginning February 21.

For more information, contact the university's community relations office at 768-9452.