Though not a holiday show in the typical sense, "Almost, Maine" exudes the kind of wonder and magic audiences crave this time of year.
Set in the frigid clime of Almost, a tiny mythical town in Maine, the essential message in the play is that love keeps us warm.
Playwright John Cariani has applied his quirky imagination to beget some purely poetic moments in relationships. And Murphys Creek Theatre brings these moments to life at the Black Bart Playhouse with four actors playing 19 characters under the direction Graham Scott Green.
In a series of vignettes, Anthony DePage, Alia Ledford, Steve Coniglio and Sarah Grimes-Emmons create a sense that anything is possible with whimsical, piercing finesse.
The trick is to get into and accept the world of their characters.
From the opening scene, Ledford and DePage invite the audience to stretch their minds and consider the distance between lovers and stars alike.
Portraying the tumbling ineptitude of inexperience with deft expression, the two gently shove the audience over the brink into the second scene with Grimes-Emmons and Coniglio, where a travel brochure, fanciful energy, a slate heart, and a kiss burst with the flare of Northern Lights.
From there, one scene after another pops with piquancy, hilarity, and symbolism as the four actors ham up caricature in every scene.
DePage slides smoothly from geeky to woebegon to poignantly patient, and he and Coniglio are falling down priceless in a "bromance" scene.
Coniglio too is versatile, rendering clearly distinctive performances as a beer-swilling lunkhead, a man numb to pain, and a weary husband, among others.
He and Grimes-Emmons couple in a variety of scenes, clearly having a blast with the cartoonish gags of Cariani's script but also delivering the more touching facets with aplomb.
Grimes-Emmons is perfectly cast whether crazily broken-hearted, emotionally melting or convincingly never-been-kissed.
Ledford morphs gracefully from the naivete of the opening scene to babbling and ditzy in a delightful vignette about giving her boyfriend back the love he's given, and eventually to a pitiable woman with a terribly delayed response to a proposal.
The play demands a suspension of disbelief, which is supported by the set and lighting design. Green's simplistic set evokes nostalgic abandon swaddled in a snowy cotton landscape complete with a cookie cutter forest of pine trees.
Ross Aldridge delivers love through light, bringing a starry sky and the Northern Lights alive in the theater.
Wardrobe is mostly bland outerwear - snow hats, parkas and boots - with touches of red for love and splashes of silliness for fun. There is surprising charm in a missing boot and an ironing board.
By the closing scene, you'll feel like you've taken a special little journey - encountering delicacy and delight in a snowy hinterland.
"Almost, Maine" is definitely a gem, especially of you are looking for miracles and cheer without the redundancy of most December tales.
The production plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 22. For tickets, call 728-8422 or visit www.murphyscreektheatre.com .