Dallas Stars play-by-play man Ralph Strangis still has more than six weeks to wait before he can put on the headset for his 20th campaign in the club’s broadcast booth. However, Strangis will soon be in front of an audience, as he is set to perform in Theatre Coppell’s production of Almost, Maine, beginning this weekend and continuing the following weekend.
A whimsical, delightful comedy, Almost, Maine is set on a cold winter Friday night in a remote, mythical town, and features 19 characters in a series of short vignettes that explore the mysteries of the human heart, and touch audiences with laughter, heartbreak and hope.
Strangis plays five of those characters in the show, making quick scene and character-changes his biggest challenges. In his previous shows, Strangis has played such characters as a middle-aged Little League baseball coach and a British chef, but not at the same time.
“The first three shows, I got to figure out who the ‘guy’ was, and I got to live with that character in my head for a month or so, really getting into who he is and what makes him tick,” said Strangis. “This show, I play five different guys and I’m discovering them at different times, some easier than others. There are a few scenes that are back-to-back, so I leave the stage, quick-change, and go right back out as another character. That makes it difficult, but more of a rewarding challenge.”
One of Strangis’ characters won’t be quite such a reach for him to play, at least according to those who know him best.
“It’s funny, the one guy is potentially me since he does some things that I exhibit sometimes, as my work colleagues could attest,” laughed Strangis. “‘Steve’ doesn’t feel pain, so he makes lists of things that could hurt him and things he should be afraid of. He’s shy and sweet, full of wonder, but very resistant to change and set-in-his-ways and beliefs. You could say that I relate to him a little bit.”
Strangis has been involved in three prior shows with the Theatre Coppell group, and played a hand in the selection of Almost, Maine as this year’s production. The show, originally written by John Cariani, was on the early short list of the company’s choices for this year’s ‘Backstage Series.’ While Strangis was in Columbus on a Stars road trip in January, he attended a production of Almost, Maine and loved what he saw.
“I happened to see this show in Columbus, of all places, it was playing like two blocks away,” said Strangis. “I went and saw it in a theater that’s very similar to ours, and it was great. I said that night that I’d like to do this show. I knew right away that everyone would be touched by at least one of these scenes… there’s hope, regret, laughter and love, and I knew right away this was our show. It’s a great date-night show, for sure.”
Gary Walters, one of Theatre Coppell’s regular actors, appears in this production and most enjoys the charming, thought-provoking nature of Almost, Maine.
|Ralph Strangis in character during Theatre Coppell's production of LUV in 2007. |
“You ‘almost’ see the characters’ issues worked out,” said Walters. “But you don’t quite see the joy, as you let the audience imagine it in their own minds. A couple of them are resolved, but for the most part, you are left in the moment right before the characters work out their situations. They all take place at the exact same time on a Friday night, the Northern Lights serve as a transition between scenes and it’s just a really endearing show that everyone can relate to.”
Strangis estimates that he’s put at least 100 hours into this show, rehearsing three hours a day, five days a week, for the last five weeks, not to mention all the time and effort he’s spent in learning the script and working on his character development. He loves the challenge, and as he accumulates more stage time and grows as an actor, he’s learning and appreciating more about the craft every day.
“I can stand at American Airlines Center in front of 20,000 people and I have no more anxiety about that than I would be tying my shoe,” said Strangis. “But to walk on stage in front of 150 people, acting like someone else – in this case, five other people – for two hours, it’s like jumping out of an airplane. Acting is an amazing exercise in concentration that I don’t get doing anything else. Gary and the other actors in this show – Brittania McCullough and Laurie McDonald – are so good, so subtle and so talented and I have such an appreciation for this. It is an art and the people who do it well make it look easy.”
Walters playfully questioned Strangis’ excitement about the show, wondering whether his two love interests, or the show itself, are his biggest sources of excitement for Almost, Maine.
“Ralph always seems to find shows where he gets to kiss other women,” joked Walters. “He has really grown as an actor, and his character development continues to impress me. He’s done an outstanding job with this show, and we’re excited to get on stage with it.”
Almost, Maine opens at Theatre Coppell (157 South Moore Rd., Coppell) on Friday, and will run six times over the next two weekends (August 14, 15 and 16; August 21, 22 and 23). The Friday and Saturday performance times are at 8:00 p.m., while the Sunday matinees are 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are $14 apiece with discounts for students and seniors, and for more information, please visit www.theatrecoppell.com.