The search for love – in all its messy, joyful, aching, hopeful forms – will be on display this weekend at the Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance’s teen performance of the acclaimed romantic comedy Almost, Maine. Performances run through Sunday, April 30, at the Howe Theater in the Cultural Center at 548 Main Street.
The production is also the directorial debut of 22-year-old Islander Joan Marie Cusick, who was once herself a fixture on the community theater’s stage.
The Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance’s Teen Theater will present the romantic comedy Almost, Maine this weekend at the Roosevelt Island Cultural Center.
Written by John Cariani, Almost, Maine is a collection of two-person scenes that explore the many ways in which love is lost and found – and utterly befuddled – over the course of one evening in the small town of Almost, Maine. The story lines are poignant and funny, and speak with a modern sensibility about love and our own human failings.
Cusick says she selected this play for her teen cast after falling in love with it in college.
“When I was searching, I wanted something that wasn’t too mature for them. But I also didn’t want to choose a made-for-kids play, because I wanted them to be able to come in and actually connect,” Cusick says. Her cast ranges from eighth-graders to high school seniors.
“They love the play. It’s written in the way we speak, so it’s easy for them to connect with it. For teens especially, the search for love resonates with them. Plus there’s a lot of funny dialogue and physical comedy. It helps them get out of their heads and just have fun.”
Cusick thinks the show also offers an important message. “The thing that we’re most afraid of is love. Each scene deals with a different place of fear within love, and why fear stops love. It’s looking at relationships, but I think you can take it and apply it to a lot of different topics.”
It wasn’t long ago that Cusick was standing in front of audiences herself on the Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance (MST&DA) stage. Cusick grew up on Roosevelt Island. Her parents, Russ Cusick and Jackie Lucid-Cusick, have both had long theater careers, including teaching and directing at MST&DA.
“I lucked out,” Cusick says of her parents. “It was wonderful to have a family that was so supportive of what I loved to do. And parents that understood the hard part of what I was trying to do.”
After graduating from the theater program at the State University of New York at Fredonia, Cusick returned to the Island – and MST&DA.
“I knew [MST&DA] hadn’t had a [youth] play here in a while. I really wanted to bring that back. I loved working on the plays here when I was younger.” As a teenager, Cusick says, she appreciated having the option to perform in a non-musical play.
“It’s different. It’s really different,” explains Cusick. “There’s a lot of therapy in acting. When I was in their shoes, coming to Main Street Theatre, I know I appreciated being able to act without worrying about the singing and dancing. I always felt like I could express myself there. And it was such a healthy outlet while I was in high school when I didn’t feel like I fit in. I always felt like I fit in here. I wanted to bring that back and let kids have that opportunity, to have a safe space for people who don’t want to sing and dance. So I think this is a great outlet for teenagers.”
Almost, Maine is the first full-length play Cusick has directed. She says the two-person scenes have given her a chance to spend a lot of one-on-one time with the performers.
“It’s been really rewarding to come back and be able to give back to this place that meant so much to me growing up. I really enjoy sharing what I’ve learned as an actor and director with [the students] and giving them a creative outlet.”
Cusick has also been busy establishing a new theater company in the City, called Shellscrape Theater, with fellow Fredonia graduates. The group is focusing on producing original works, including a one-act festival in May and a full-length play in the fall.
Almost, Maine will have four performances: 8:00 p.m., Friday April 28; 2:00 p.m., and 8:00 p.m., Saturday April 29; and 7:00 p.m., Sunday, April 30. The show is recommended for ages 12 and older. Tickets are available online at www.mstda.org/almost-maine.html. Adult tickets cost $20, student/senior tickets are $15.