It is a cold, wintry night in the town of Almost, Maine, and as the magic of the Northern Lights is captured in the clear moonlit sky, residents find themselves taken over by a lovers' spell.
As romance blossoms, hearts are broken and love is found again, residents of this mythical town are suddenly no longer the keepers of their very own hearts. The hugely successful off-Broadway play Almost, Maine promises to leave UAE theatre lovers beaming when it is staged this Valentine's Day. In the spirit of the occasion, the Desert Players' production from Dubai Drama will be complemented by a three-course meal at the Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates.
"We've been doing acting workshops for about five years now, but this is the first play from the Desert Players group," says Tiffany Schultz, the producer for Almost, Maine.
Since it first opened in 2004 in the US, Almost, Maine, by the playwright John Cariani, has been produced around the world. According to the Drama Dubai founder Kemsley Dickinson, it has since topped Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream as the "most-produced play in US high schools". That is not to say, however, that teenagers are its target audience – it is instead a romantic comedy aimed at the 20s and 30s crowd. The play, a series of 10-minute vignettes, caught Dickenson's eye when it was first produced in Dubai in 2009 at the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre.
"From the first minute I was engaged and excited," he says. "Everyone in the theatre came out buzzing and talking about it. It's a bit like the TV sitcom Friends with a touch of magic to it. Guys should not be put off seeing it either because of the comedic element. It's a funny play and people will recognise aspects of their own relationships within each scene."
The local production is made up of an 11-member multinational cast representing the UK, US, Pakistan and Lebanon.
"One scene will be about ending a relationship and the awkwardness of it, another is about a couple falling in love or proposing and another about a disenchanted couple whose marriage is on the rocks," says Dickinson.
The American actress Brook Butterworth, who is taking on the role of two characters, says the play can also be compared with the movie Love Actually. "Everything seems profoundly realistic, and then something happens," she says. "The challenge is taking a script like this and studying the subtext because you can't just focus merely on what is written."
Since the story is centred around the moment the Northern Lights start to flare, the group is also aiming to go all out on lighting effects.
"The author says it's about that magical moment," says the Irish cast member Triona McBride. "Maybe we don't realise at that time what's happening, but it is a little heightened, as it's theatre. The audience will continue to be surprised because it's not a typical ending."
Having worked as an actress in the US for the past four years, Jordanian Dana Dajani is now based in the UAE.
"I auditioned and was impressed. I could see what a great team Tiffany and Kemsley are," she says. "I am in two vignettes that are both comedic and fun to play. It's whimsical and magical and the writer allows so much for the actor to animate the character, while staying true to the words. I can't wait to be on stage."
Dubai Drama is also pushing for increased support for smaller theatre companies in order to build a more established community, as well as an artistic space where actors can regularly rehearse and plays can be staged at a much lower cost to meet demand.
"It's not as developed or mature as, say, the music or arts scenes, which seem to be getting a lot of support," says Dickinson. "Theatre is restricted."
To get over the hurdles, the company is looking at expanding to radio theatre, producing approximately three shows a year.
"We will have lots of auditions coming up soon for radio dramas – one is called Aliens Invade Dubai," he said. "The production value of creating a radio drama is far less in terms of rehearsals, set, props and costumes, and they are fun to do."
Almost, Maine starts on Tuesday and runs until Saturday, with shows at 7.30pm as well as 5pm matinees on Friday and Saturday. Tickets start from Dh100 for show, Dh415 for Valentine's Day dinner and show and Dh310 for dinner and show on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information visit: www.dramaworkshopsdubai.com/blog/
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