Some playwrights, it must be said, are fairly amazing. The world is in a horrible state, indifference to human suffering has never been higher, there's war without end, hunger without cease, pain without relief ... and some playwrights take a look at that landscape and say, "Gee, nobody's written a play about people falling in love in the last 10 minutes! Howzabout I rush in to fill that yawning void?"
And that brings us to John Cariani and his romantic comedy Almost, Maine, which is receiving a respectable if bumpy production at South Park Theatre.
Now plays about love ... well, when you're a theater critic, plays about people falling in love are the second-most common item on the menu; plays about suburban infidelity are the first. And maybe that provides some reason for my cynicism. I'm not necessarily against love, but surely no sentient being can utter the words "I'll love you forever" without remembering how often they've used the phrase before.
Then again, I'm a bitch, so what do I know? People fall in love, and playwrights can be labeled as "people" (if you're in a generous mood). So they're bound to write plays about falling in love.
Cariani, however, goes farther. He's written nine playlets about nine couples falling in love -- all at 9 p.m., in a tiny little northern town called Almost, Maine ... which forces me to paraphrase the words of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest: "I do not know whether there is anything peculiarly exciting in the air of this particular part of Maine, but the number of engagements that go on seems to me considerably above the proper average that statistics have laid down for our guidance."
It's to Cariani's great credit that, although he is re-plowing the same dramaturgical field over and over again, he manages to keep the evening as clever and inventive as he does. Cariani sneaks into each scene a little bit of whimsical fancy -- almost "magic realism," if I can use such an academic term for such an unacademic play. I would have been a bit happier if Cariani had wound up the evening a couple of scenes earlier, but the enthusiastic opening-night audience with whom I saw the production probably would have enjoyed several more vignettes.
And speaking of opening nights ... Mark Clayton Southers directs the show with a cast of eight, led by Pittsburgh's leading comedy doyenne, Duchess of Deadpan Barbara Russell. And at no point did it feel like anything other than an opening night -- a rocky, seat-of-the-pants opening night. Lines were tentative and technical cues were off the mark.
But here's the thing: By the time you read this review, the show will have gotten several needed performances under its belt and the talent behind this production, which is considerable, will be showing us exactly what falling in love is really like.
Almost, Maine continues through Sept. 18. South Park Theatre, Corrigan Drive and Brownsville Road, South Park. 412-831-8552 or www.southparktheatre.com