ALAMEDA -- What started out as a series of audition monologues turned into one of the most frequently produced plays of the past decade. As the website notes, "Almost, Maine" is almost everywhere. And, now, it is also in Alameda as the Altarena Playhouse presents the quirky comedy beginning Friday through April 13.

Written by Broadway actor, and now playwright, John Cariana, "Almost, Maine" takes place on a cold, clear, moonless night in the town of Almost, Maine. As the northern lights fill the sky, residents find themselves falling in and out of love in unexpected and often hilarious ways.

"It's nine different stories that take place in the same moment in time," said Stewart Lyle, the Altarena's technical director who returns to the stage for this show. "Everything happens right before 9 p.m. All the scenes are about people making connections of some sort, and there's a bit of magic about each scene."

As in the play, the casting of the show also deals with relationships.

"I first worked with Stewart in 1997 when I directed Alameda Civic Light Opera's production of 'The Fantasticks.' His audition was so dynamic and sincere that he was the clear choice for the young lover Matt," said director Carol Chacon, whose husband, Altarena artistic director Fred Chacon, played the role of El Gallo in the popular musical.

Carol Chacon had been looking for something to do that included Lyle and his wife, Donna Turner, for some time. And then she read "Almost, Maine." According to Chacon, Emily Garcia was a natural choice for the other female character.

"I worked with Emily in Noel Coward's 'Private Lives,' also produced at the Altarena. I've had the pleasure of watching her grow into the amazing actress that she is today," Chacon said.

Steve Rhyne fills the fourth cast position.

"Steve is just a fabulous find. When he auditioned with the other three actors, it was magic," Chacon said.

And, magic is a key component for this production that takes place in the small town in Maine where the playwright grew up.

"There's a little bit of magic about each scene. But I don't want to give it away," said Lyle, who plays five different characters including two scenes with his wife. "We met when we both performed in Diablo Light Opera Company's (now Diablo Theatre Company) 'City of Angels' many years ago and have done four or five shows together since. It's really fun to play so many different characters in a play that is well written and with people you respect and enjoy working with. It's almost like a tennis match on stage. All that energy going back and forth as we respond to each other."

In addition to performing in the show, Lyle also designed and built the set.

"We tried to create something that would work for all the scenes, which include interior and outdoor areas with a little touch of forest," he said. "It appears to be a simple set, but as I've discovered over the years, sometimes the simple sets are the most complicated to build."

According to Chacon, "Almost, Maine" requires an experienced cast that can create different characters and be able to switch quickly from one to another.

"It's also a naturalistic style, which makes it challenging since the actors need to be both theatrical and believable," Chacon said. "I have the ideal cast to pull it off."

Chacon also acknowledged the commitment of the designers and backstage crew.

"This is truly an ensemble production that relies on the expertise of the crew to make it successful," she said.

These unseen titans include stage manager Ilona Pacek, scenic artist Darrell Burson, lighting designer Fred Chacon, sound designer Fred di Natale, costume designer Sydney Michaels and shift/fast change crew Nikki Eggert, Nadine Paulino and Johnny Rivard.

FYI
"Almost, Maine" plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. from Friday through April 13 at the Altarena Playhouse in Alameda. For tickets, call 510-523-1553 or go to www.altarena.org.