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Love story vignettes comprise romantic comedy, 'Almost, Maine'

Actors, from left, Jennifer Quinn and Brien Faucett rehearse a scene from, "Almost Maine," a romantic comedy presented by the New Depot Players, which opens on Thursday.

Actors, from left, Jennifer Quinn and Brien Faucett rehearse a scene from, "Almost Maine," a romantic comedy presented by the New Depot Players, which opens on Thursday.

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New Depot Players, from left, Paul Casola, Amy Johnson and Shelley Cherkis rehearse their roles for, "Almost, Maine."

Some 10 years ago, Amy LeCates and Kim Fratesi worked together in a community theatre production of "The Robber Bridegroom," and there have been several occasions since when the two have shared the stage.

For the New Depot Players' fall production, however, LeCates and Fratesi are handling backstage and front-of-house duties as co-directors of John Cariani's "Almost, Maine," which opens Thursday, Oct. 11, at Center Street Arts in Olde Town Conyers.

"Kim's a very positive person, which is very good for me," said LeCates, who has directed performances at Rockdale County High School but will be making her directorial (or co-directorial) debut with "Almost, Maine."

"She's my ray of sunshine. I guess that makes me the reality-check girl. She's also designed the set and has selected the music that will accompany the play. She's got a very creative eye."

An early intervention instructor at Pine Street Elementary for the past 14 years, LeCates cultivated her interest in the theater while at Heritage High, where she studied under the school's former drama director Mary Lynn Luke (who now directs the Oxford Singing Children and Oxford Young Singers in Newton County).

"Mary Lynn taught me in middle and high school -- seven years!" LeCates said.

"She's one of the great teachers in Rockdale County. She helped develop my love for singing and acting and building characters. The theatre is a tight-knit group of people who are very accepting and always want to help. That's Mary Lynn Luke."

A romantic comedy, "Almost, Maine" is divided into a series of nine vignettes of folks falling in and out of love in the Maine town of Almost. The show was written in 2002, premiered in Portland, Maine, in 2004 and was produced Off-Broadway in 2006.

LeCates said the eccentric nature of "Almost, Maine" is what captured her imagination and convinced her to join Fratesi in overseeing the production.

"The play itself is a lot of very short vignettes, all love stories," she said. "The stories are kind of odd and quirky, with a lot of symbolism, but I think they're very on-point for anybody who's ever been in a relationship or a marriage or were dating someone or meeting someone.

"It's a really cute little play. It's all about love and people, which kind of stuck with me when I was reading it. It's very tender and a very clever little play."

The eight-member cast is a mix of "newbies" and veterans, including Tom Johnson, who serves on the Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts and has previously directed New Depot Player shows, and his wife Amy. The play can call for a cast as large as 18 or 19 players, but it can also be executed with a smaller troupe, which is what LeCates and Fratesi pursued.

"We went for the smaller number," LeCates said. "We've got eight actors in our cast and several folks will be playing multiple roles."

LeCates -- who was offered the opportunity to direct at Rockdale County High School by Bonnie Marshall, who, like Luke, is among the icons in the area's community theatre history -- said she's enjoyed the experience of directing "Almost, Maine."

"Being an actor, I think actors really understand directors and directing," she said. "I'm always worrying if I'm giving enough guidance and if the actors understand what I mean. People who have worked onstage know that sometimes the hardest part of directing is telling someone they've got to match their face with their actions or they've got to 'do it bigger.'"

Calling directing "a wonderful experience," LeCates said she'd jump at the chance to do it again sometime, but she's more fulfilled in front of the lights.

"I'd be willing to direct again, but I'm really more of an onstage girl," she said. "I really enjoy developing a character and working with other people. I don't think I'll ever give up on acting. I'll direct again but not anytime soon."

Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens.