Popcorn Falls is an actor’s dream of a play. So, it’s no surprise that the playwright, James Hindman, is also an actor. As is first-time director, Christian Borle. And I must say, they all combine to do the theatrical arts proud in this charming, funny and clever evening at the Davenport Theatre.
As the script says right under the title “1 small town, 2 medium sized actors, 21 over-the-top characters.” Which is not quite accurate – the characters aren’t all over-the-top, and I only counted 16 speaking roles. Just saying. But what is absolutely true is that 2 medium sized actors play all the roles. And quite smashingly.
What is so much fun and so impressive, is how accurate and specific each character is with such small adjustments by each actor. There are no costume changes, just a hat here, or a shirt tied around a waist as an apron there. Or a sweater cradled like a cat by another character. Or simply an imaginary cigarette waved around by someone else. An accent, a walk, a squint, an attitude. Each character is simply but clearly defined. And they have to be because it’s a fast-paced script with the occasional group scene that has the two actors playing multiple characters at once.
The plot revolves around a little town named, you guessed it - Popcorn Falls. The town has fallen on hard times and the only thing that can save it is….a play! Yes, Virginia, the arts can save the world. Or at least a little town called Popcorn Falls, where the townsfolk like to be called “kernels.” The two main characters that we meet at the top of the show are the new mayor Mr. Trundle (Adam Heller) and the town handyman Joe (Tom Souhrada), who are setting up for a community meeting on the stage of the town hall. We learn that the town is in terrible shape, and the Head of the County Budget Committee is coming to the meeting and has promised them a large check which will solve all their problems.
Needless to say, the evil Head of the Budget Committee, Mr. Doyle (Tom Souhrada), has tricked the town and is not forthcoming with a get out of jail free check. No, he has a large check for a non-existent theater company. So, what’s a spunky town full of quirky characters going to do? Put on a play, of course! In 7 days.
But first they have to write one. The towns “kernels” assemble in the town library which is presided over by Ms. Parker (she of the sweater-cat Mr. Cuddles). Since Ms. Parker was once the leading light of the Anchor Bay Players Mr. Trundle thought she would be able to come up with a suitable plot but, alas, her only contribution is that it should be about kittens. Mrs. Stepp, the overly aggressive, over-sexed middle school teacher suggests an R-rated plot. Floyd, the one-armed owner of the lumber yard throws in some violent plot twists, until finally Mr. Trundle says he’ll take everyone’s ideas and write the thing.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trundle has been eating his meals at the Sudsy Mug where he meets the new bartender Becky who has just moved back into town. She’s a sweet young woman with an adorable habit of tucking her hair behind her ear, and easy to talk to. And she and Mr. Trundle strike up a friendship. I was absolutely smitten myself with the character of Becky. And even more so when she was played by both actors at different points with the same sweetness and gestures. I found myself looking forward to her appearances in a scene.
Really, I was delighted with the entire play and looked forward to each new scene and character. Christian Borle did a magnificent job in his freshman directing effort. Not least of which was a smart choice of vehicle. The whole thing was a character study with an ingenious plot twist at the end that made everything fall into place. Not that it felt like anything was out of place, mind you. It was just a big “Aha!” moment at the end. And it proved that really, with great acting and writing, and a good pace, you don’t need a lot of extras. Kudos to all involved.
(Photo by Monique Carboni)