Reviewed by George Basler

Sometimes love can come in unexpected ways at unexpected times, so be ready to grab it with both hands. That’s the message of Almost, Maine, a charming, heartfelt show running through June 23 at KNOW Theatre in downtown Binghamton.

The play, written by playwright/actor John Cariani, is a refreshing change of pace for KNOW, which is known for presenting edgy, provocative plays. Almost Maine, by contrast, turns its back on edgy in favor of a warm, laid-back tone as it presents a romantic, hopeful and, at times, wistful look at characters who fall in and out of love in a myriad of ways.

The KNOW production, directed by Jeff Tagliaferro and featuring four talented actors, catches this tone well. The production proudly carries its heart on its sleeve without ever descending into bathos.

Almost, Maine features nine loosely connected vignettes that take place simultaneously on a bitterly cold winter’s night in Almost, Maine. The community is called “Almost” because residents never got around to getting it organized.

Each vignette features two characters who reveal their hopes, dreams, regrets and vulnerabilities as they live through the frigid evening. The structure means the four actors — Amelia Rose, Kirsten Whistle, Zachary Chastain and Eric Fernandez — play multiple roles.

A lot of things are right about Cariani’s play. One is the fact that he never patronizes his working-class characters. Instead, he presents them with affectionate understanding while recognizing their shortcomings and flaws.

Another strong point is that Cariani has a talent for writing evocative dialogue as he mixes poignant and humorous moments. Some of the sight gags are reminiscent of silent screen comedies, and the KNOW cast plays them well.

Finally, Cariani drops metaphors and moments of magic realism into his play. This narrative technique combines realism with surreal elements of dreams and fantasy.

The approach is a risky one, and it doesn’t work every time in Almost, Maine. One vignette in which a character drags clothes baskets of “love” on stage while breaking up with her boyfriend is forced. But other times, the approach works beautifully, such as when a young woman, carrying a sandwich bag with her broken heart, shows up at a stranger’s door, and the stranger offers to fix it.

The four KNOW actors seamlessly make the transition among the 19 characters in the play. They show comic skill and an impressive depth of feeling in their performances. They make the characters infinitely relatable.

The KNOW production is not a “feel good” production. Cariani leaves the vignettes open-ended without clear resolutions. Not all of them seem poised to end well. But you’re left with a sense of hope that the characters will muddle through no matter their circumstances.

Almost, Maine’s open-hearted approach and lack of cynicism convey a pleasant after taste, and so does the KNOW production.

The KNOW set is minimalist one, simply a starry night scene projected on the stage. But it captures the starry-eyed mood of the play that takes place while the northern lights are at their zenith.

IF YOU GO: KNOW Theatre will present Almost, Maine by John Cariani weekends through June 23 at its theater located at 74 Carroll St. in downtown Binghamton. Friday and Saturday shows are at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees are at 3 p.m. Tickets at $25 (seniors, $20; students, $15) can be ordered through KNOW’s website

IBM is the corporate sponsor. Season sponsors are Stephen & Amy Smyk. For more information, email or Tim Gleason at