President Linda Schott has announced that John Cariani—the playwright and actor who has performed on Broadway, in the movies, and on the small screen, and hails from Presque Isle—will deliver the commencement address during the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s 104th Commencement Ceremony, to be held on Saturday, May 18. During the event, an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree will be presented to Cariani.
“We are honored to have a Presque Isle native who has achieved so much on the stage and screen address our graduating class this year. John Cariani is a wonderful example of how long-term goals and dreams can be achieved through hard work and perseverance. We look forward to the words of wisdom he will share during our commencement exercises and hope they will serve as inspiration for our graduates as they prepare to enter their career fields,” President Schott said. “We are also very pleased to be honoring John for his outstanding example of leadership and commitment and contributions to the arts by conferring upon him an honorary doctorate degree.”
Cariani is an accomplished playwright and award-winning actor. His first play, Almost, Maine, premiered at Portland Stage Company in 2004 and became that theater’s most successful production: It sold out its run and garnered critical acclaim. Almost, Maine opened Off Broadway in 2006, and is now featured in Smith and Kraus’ New Playwrights: Best Plays of 2006.
The play has since become one of the most frequently produced plays in the United States, with over 70 professional productions and over 1500 community, high school, and university productions to date. In 2011, the Washington Post reported that Almost, Maine had replaced Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town as the most frequently produced play in North American High Schools. Almost, Maine has been translated into eight languages and is currently playing in Russia, Hungary, and Germany. His two other plays, Last Gas and LOVE/SICK, premiered at Portland Stage Company and are currently in negotiations for Off Broadway engagements in the coming season.
As an actor, Cariani got his start on Presque Isle stages, with numerous roles in Presque Isle High School 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.
He got his break when he was cast in the Off Broadway play It’s My Party (And I’ll Die if I want To), which starred Academy Award Winner F. Murray Abraham. Since then, he has shared the big screen with legends Robert De Niro (in the Warner Brothers releaseShowtime), Christopher Walken (in the indie hit, Scotland, PA), and Ed Asner (in the 2012 independent release, Elephant Sighs). In 2004, he shared the stage with Alfred Molina in the Broadway Revival of Fiddler on the Roof, and his performance earned him an Outer Critics Circle Award and a Tony Award nomination.
His success on stage and on the big screen aside, Cariani is probably best known for his work on television. From 2002-2007, he played CSU Tech Julian Beck on NBC’s long-running drama, Law & Order. He also had recurring roles as Professor Otto Bahnoff in the final season of CBS’ Numbers, (2009-2010) and as reporter Michael Falk on the IFC’s The Onion News Network (2011). He recently guest-starred on Showtime’s acclaimed series, Homeland.
Originally from the Star City, Cariani graduated from Presque Isle High School in 1987. He studied acting and directing at StageWest in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Amherst College. He now lives in New York City.
The University’s Commencement Exercises are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 18, in Wieden Gymnasium.