When in doubt, plant one. A kiss, that is. Osculatory action resolves many dilemmas in "Almost, Maine," John Cariani's sweet-natured valentine to fools and idioms.
"Almost," now playing at the Colony Theatre Company, strings together eight short plays about love and self-discovery in frozen climes. Its characters inhabit a northern corner of Maine that has never been incorporated; "unorganized territory," as one resident ruefully describes it. Of course, Cariani's mapping the terrain of the reticent heart, given to long periods of arctic torpor with the occasional emotional aurora borealis.
"Almost" traffics in the collision of the figurative and the literal. "Her Heart" finds Glory (Caroline Kinsolving) wandering onto the yard of a nice fellow (Donald Sage Mackay) in the middle of the night. She's traveled far to catch the northern lights, hoping they'll mend her broken heart. Which has hardened into pieces of slate. Which she's carrying in a paper bag. Turns out the lawn's owner is a repairman. "Slate," he muses. "Good for roofing."
Like Glory's emotional rescue, "Almost" is as effortless (and occasionally as pat) as lighting a Duraflame log. This isn't exactly Strindberg, more like "Love, American Style" for the moose set. (David Potts' minimalist stage design, strewn with snow and framed upstage by stark trees and two free-standing doors, expresses the show's stylized aesthetic.)
What's most appealing about "Almost, Maine" is its goofy fearlessness. Cariani will walk straight up to a figure of speech and invite it to his party. This strategy can be wonderfully disarming, as in "Getting It Back," which starts with Gayle (Kinsolving) stomping into the apartment of her ex-boyfriend (Louis Lotorto), insisting on returning the love he gave her. Now. "It's in the trunk of my car," she growls, and proceeds to drag in huge red sacks stuffed with amorphous foam. There's something absurdly right about seeing affection three-dimensionalized when a couple's comparing who gives more in a relationship.
In other playlets, Cariani's puns leave no room for the audience to explore a scene for themselves before it's resolved with a clever turn. Take the story of a woman who realizes, years after the fact, that she loves the man who once proposed to her. She rushes across the country to give him an answer, believing he's never given up on her. The woman's name is Hope.
Director David Rose paces the production with confident rhythm, landing punch lines and silences with ease. This is light material, but Rose might have found a few darker shadings, just to keep the stakes a little higher. In the end, these are all awfully nice people. And as sex columnist Dan Savage has pointed out, if only nice people could find love, the world's population would dwindle pretty fast.
The cast is best -- truest -- when it forgets wanting to win us over. Lotorto amuses as a blue-collar lunk commiserating with his best friend in "They Fell," then turns up two scenes later as the quietly devastated ex of Hope. Dee Ann Newkirk jitters grimly while wielding a lethal ironing board with slapstick precision in "This Hurts." Kinsolving tends to insist on her characters instead of playing them, but she and Mackay both convince as bitter spouses in "Where It Went."
If your idea of romance is "Last Tango in Paris" or the relationship between Dr. Gregory House and James Wilson, "Almost, Maine" might make your teeth hurt a little. But for those with a yen for sweets, Cariani's bonbons satisfy the wish that everyone, even those wearing blinders and L.L. Bean, can stumble their way into love.
Where: Colony Theatre, 555 N. 3rd St., Burbank
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Call for other times.
Ends: March 9
Price: $37 to $42
Contact: (818) 558-7000 or www.colonytheatre.org
Running time: 2 hours