Get far enough north on a clear night when conditions are right, and you just might see the northern lights. Almost, Maine takes place on such a night. In fact, it takes place on that night over and over again, because each of its independent but interrelated scenes occurs around 9 on the same Friday evening in mid-winter.

Get far enough north on a clear night when conditions are right, and you just might see the northern lights.

Almost, Maine takes place on such a night. In fact, it takes place on that night over and over again, because each of its independent but interrelated scenes occurs around 9 on the same Friday evening in mid-winter.

As John Cariani explains in his playwright's notes, the aurora borealis appears when electrons emitted during a solar storm hit our atmosphere and "excite" its atoms.

"When the aurora fades," he writes, "it's because the affected atoms have returned to their grounded state. Almost, Maine is a play about people who are normally very grounded, but who have become very excited by love ... and other extraordinary occurrences."

By sheer coincidence, surely, CATCO's production of the whimsical romantic comedy opens right before Valentine's Day.

Cariani made his name as an actor, on television's Law and Order and as a Tony nominee on Broadway, but as a playwright he wrote what he knew.

He grew up in the small and remote town of Presque Isle, in northern Maine. In spite of the second word of its name, Presque Isle sits more than 200 miles from the ocean. As to the first word of its name, well that's French for "almost." By sheer coincidence.

By yet another coincidence, CATCO Artistic Director Geoffrey Nelson, who will be directing the production, also grew up in northern Maine. He's sure to adhere to Cariani's insistence that the people of Almost are "not hicks or rednecks" with "funny Maine accents," but instead "speak simply, honestly, truly, and from the heart."

The nine or so intertwined love stories of Almost, Maine toy with the opposite nuances of the word "almost." It can express a sense of regret, of falling short. Or it can express a sense of promise, of hopefulness.

Cariani's surreal play and its endearing characters stop at every point along that continuum. Almost.