Nine stories of love, loss, heartbreak and happiness will offer audiences a glimpse into the emotional roller coaster of relationships during Calhoun Community College’s staging of “Almost, Maine.”

“There are so many different types of love stories, people will see some that will resonate with them. There are others that will give them a different view of love and relationships,” said actor Will Parker.

The show, which opened Sunday, will continue this week with performances tonight and Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m. Tickets cost $12 for adults and $8 for students and seniors.

Balancing fantasy with reality, “Almost, Maine” follows characters as they fall in and out of love, grieve lost love and find unexpected love. The stories end with joy, hope, disappointment and regret.

“It’s been fun for me to watch audiences take in productions of ‘Almost, Maine,’ because they think they’re watching a simple, realistic little comedy …and then, all of a sudden, they’re not. They’re watching something that isn’t simple or real or comic at all. Nothing is what it seems,” said playwright John Cariani.

Since premiering in 2004, the play has become one of the most popular productions among professional, amateur and student companies. In 2010 and 2012, it ranked as the most produced play in North American high schools.

“I’ve always wanted to do this play,” director Bill Provin said. “It’s a really good teaching device because there are 18 parts. Most of these students, they have never been the lead before. In this play, they all have to learn how to be the lead.”

Each scene takes place on the same day at the same time in the same small town beneath the northern lights. Cariani described the climax of each scene as the “magical moment.”

“I have this notion … that the northern lights and these magical moments are giving rise to one another,” Cariani said. “ 'Almost, Maine’ is therefore about one moment in time — what happens to people in a heartbeat.”

The titles of the self-contained scenes — “Sad and Glad,” “Her Heart,” “This Hurts” and “They Fall” hint at the action in those “heartbeat” moments.

“In ‘They Fall,’ the actors literally fall down and say, ‘I think I’m falling for you.’ In ‘Her Heart,’ the woman carries her heart around. You might think that’s kind of corny, but it's so well written and it’s not too syrupy. These stories don’t always end with a happy ending. There’s a lot of bittersweet that happens,” Provin said.

Set in a laundry room, “This Hurts” follows the meeting of a man with autism, who can’t feel pain, and a woman in an emotionally abusive relationship.

“I used to have a lot of trouble expressing my emotions. I tried to remember what I felt a few years ago,” said Parker, who plays opposite Chelsea Baker.

“This is a very deep scene. It helps that we are really comfortable with each other and Will is one of my really good friends,” Baker said.

Along with the subject matter, the physicality of the scene challenged the actors. To prepare for the scene, during which Baker and Parker hit each other with an ironing board, the duo studied stage choreography.

“She gets to hit me twice, I only hit her once. Thankfully we got a really cheap and crappy ironing board, so it doesn’t hurt most times,” Parker said.

In “They Fall,” Timothy Ernst and Mason Rich portray two friends who share their feelings for each other.

“When I read the play, not to lie, my first reaction was, cool, I’ve never done this before and then it turned out to be hard. It’s a fun scene, absolutely hysterical, we’re just not anything like this in real life, so we are having to change a lot about ourselves for this scene, but that’s what acting is,” Ernst said.

Through character experimentation, Ernst and Rich developed nuances for their characters, who Provin described as “guys’ guys.”

“Every time we do it, we get a little more comfortable. It happens over time. There are so many little things you do in rehearsal that get you to where you want to be. I think we are really starting to own what it is to be very exaggerated manly men,” Rich said.

Real-life husband and wife Jake and Terri-Beth Goodman act opposite each other in “Getting it Back.”

“Gayle is really high-strung and upset because she and Lendall have been together for 11 years and he has not proposed. She brings all of the love he gave to her back,” Terri-Beth Goodman said, motioning to the red garbage bags in the center of the stage. “And she wants all the love she gave him to her back. He gives her a small box, which turns out to be an engagement ring.”

This marks the final show the duo will perform with Calhoun before moving to the University of Alabama for graduate school. Both Jake and Terri-Beth received full-ride scholarships to the school’s graduate program in theater.

“I started working at Calhoun in 2013. I’ve loved it so much. I would love to get a job at another community college with a theater program and really just do what Bubba does — come up with ideas for sets and help build them,” Jake Goodman said.

Bubba Godsey, the chair of Calhoun’s Fine Arts Department, also oversees the set design and construction for Calhoun’s plays. For “Almost, Maine,” Godsey and the set team opted for a simplistic set — a blue stage with white flecks, a backdrop featuring trees and the night sky and a fabric-covered ceiling where the northern lights appear.

“There’s a moment of realization in every scene where something amazing happens or they realize something. At the end of each scene, the northern lights go off and the characters look up, like, ‘Oh, I get it, now,’ ” Provin said.

Along with Jake and Terri-Beth Goodman, Rich, Ernst, Baker and Parker, the cast includes Marcus Patten, Rachel Lowery, Julia Morrison, Christopher Stovall, Collin Riddell, Rachel McPeters, Emily Curtis, Jonathan Herady, Katrina Henley, Nicole Shelton, William Jenkins and Tabitha Parham.

The college will restage the play in the fall with the actors playing different characters. or 256-340-2441. Twitter @DecaturLiving.
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