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Two new plays switch off nights for double the fun
Brenau junior Connor Hammond and sophomore Alexandra Goldston are one couple exploring love in "Almost, Maine."

‘Proof’ and ‘Almost, Maine’

When: Alternating performances starting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday with "Almost, Maine;" evening performances run Tuesday through Feb. 15 and Feb. 17-21; 2:30 p.m. shows Feb. 14, 15 and 21
Where: Hosch Theatre in the John S. Burd Performing Arts Center at Brenau University, 429 Academy Street, Gainesville
How much: $16-$18 adults, $14-$16 seniors age 65 and older, $10-$12 students
More info: 678-717-3624

The problem with contemporary plays these days has to do with economics.

And we’re not talking about the state of the current economy. Rather, if a small theater company wants to put on a show, they weigh the cost of putting on the show along with the content.

Because of this, many plays written in the last 10 to 15 years feature just a handful of cast members. So, when a theater company whose mission is to educate student actors, such as Gainesville Theatre Alliance, starts brainstorming productions to tackle, often the newer plays get overlooked.

"Playwrights want their plays produced, so they write their shows with two or three or four actors," said Jim Hammond, artistic director of the Gainesville Theatre Alliance.

So, he thought, why not do two at once?

"Two plays combined gives us enough opportunities for our students, and it’s a great way to introduce some wonderful new plays to our audience."

Which means audiences have their choice of top-notch productions starting next week, when the Theatre Alliance presents "Almost, Maine" and "Proof" on alternating nights, starting Tuesday with "Almost, Maine."

"Almost, Maine" made its off-Broadway debut in late 2005, while "Proof" debuted in 2000.

For the two directors — Hammond and Atlanta-based actor/director Alan Kilpatrick — the production method has remained relatively the same compared to rehearsals for just one play. Other than swapping rehearsal space with the other cast, the directors have gone about their role in the usual way, Kilpatrick said.

In fact, the smaller cast has allowed him to focus more on things that might otherwise get left out in a larger cast, Kilpatrick said.

"There’s less what I call ‘actor wrangling,’ ‘actor rodeoing,’ said Kilpatrick, who is directing "Proof." "You just have the four people and most of the scenes in ‘Proof’ are for two people ... So as a director it gives you the opportunity to experiment, challenge, work with the actors that you might not be able to do with eight people on stage."

"Proof" is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play that follows the daughter of a genius math professor who also suffered from mental illness. She is also struggling with proving the source of a mathematical equation that might have come from her father — and also struggling with her own mental ability or instability.

"Proof, despite the fact that it has a lot of humor in it, is more of a drama, and ‘Almost, Maine’ is lighthearted and almost a romantic comedy," Kilpatrick said. "So, they couldn’t be more different. I think it’s just wonderful."

"Almost, Maine" tells the stories of Maine residents who fall in and out of love under magical Northern Lights.

"It’s January and Northern Lights are going crazy with in the sky and young men and women are falling in and out of love with magical effect, and we are led to believe these magical moments are all happening on the exact moment on the exact same night," Hammond said.

Ike Webster, one of the actors in "Almost, Maine," said the Northern Lights help add to the characters.

"For me, we actually see the Northern Lights for the first time. My character, he’s a resident there, and I think that, for me, it’s more about the connection between those people, and the crazy lights sort of heighten the experience," Webster said. "I think of it as something that sort of heightens the moment."

The main challenge in the two productions was in the sets.

While the cast and directors are separate for each show, the production crew didn’t have that luxury. Larry Cook, scenic designer and technical director, designed both sets and has been working with his crew to be able to swap them out at the end of the night in about 20 minutes.

"I designed each show the way I wanted it, I sketched them out, and kind of went through what I would do if I were only doing one of them," Cook said. "And then I figured out what I would have to change to make them work together."

The result is two rolling platforms, one with a winter scene for "Almost, Maine" and the other with a yellow house and a green backyard, the scene for "Proof."

"It’s not horribly different than something we do for a big musical," Cook added. "For instance, when we got ‘Gypsy’ we had two pretty good-sized wagons. Those two wagons make up the bulk of what we’re using for this show."

That’s instilled a sense of awe in the directors and the actors, who consistently refer to the sets and the logistics of the production when talking about their show.

"We’ve done an extremely good job in designing two different shows that share the same stage and work in conjunction, or in repertory with each other," Kilpatrick said. "I’m sure it has been harder for the set designer and the lighting designer, but I think they’ve done a wonderful job adapting their designs so it can run in a repertory schedule."