The Review: Schondeikkan Productions/D.T.R. Productions’ Popcorn Falls
During the frantic operatic opening, two actors quickly move and shuffle around props and set pieces as if the stopwatch was on and their life depended on it. This wildness didn’t really make sense, I wondered to myself; if they wanted this piece to open set up in this manner, couldn’t they have just started it out that way? Why all the manic rearranging? But in that exact moment, Popcorn Falls, wildly and most wonderfully directed with brilliance and bravado by Christian Borle (Encores’ Me and My Girl) had me right where the show wants me, because its smarts exist in that very opening messiness, and that hook is precisely what makes this play by James Hindman (Pete ‘n’ Keely) such a tremendous joy and surprise.
Popcorn Falls is a two actor dream of a play. A love letter to theatre and putting on a show. It takes the whole of the sweet dry town, a collapsing hamlet that the new mayor, played by the incredibly endearing and talented Adam Heller (Acorn Theatre’s A Letter to Harvey Milk) is desperately trying to save, and squashing the parts on top of two gifted and game actors. Really, to be fair, most of the parts are thrust upon Tom Souhrada (York Theatre/New World Stages’ Desperate Measures) who delivers magically, while Heller holds the heart of Popcorn Falls together with his deeply affecting portrayal of a man struggling against his own history and self-worth. Sounds deep, and for a hilarious comedy, it truly is wonderfully detailed and drenched in emotion while never losing its wink and wet nod to the theatre audience, just like the director Borle did in his accomplished Something Rotten Shakespearean portrayal.
It’s a hectic madcap mashing together of entrances and exits, expertly orchestrated by Borle, with a shirt and a cat sweater (inventive costuming by Joseph La Corte (FX’s ‘Fosse/Verdon‘) masking and sculpting various town-folk before our very eyes with seemingly ease and wit on the skillful backs of its two actors. The numerous characters are defined and elongated into something that is instantly recognizable, and even when they veer towards stereotypes or over-the-top postures, the performers beautifully ground these people instantly in the dry thirsty soil of Popcorn Falls. “Is acting like crying?“, Becky questions the mayor as she takes a selfie while auditioning for the town play. Quick as a squirrel, Becky establishes herself as one of my favorite Souhrada creations, alongside his flirty young gal bartender and her daughter at the Sudsy Mug.
With a chalkboard guiding our way through town, beautifully orchestrated on the wonderful auditorium set by Tim Mackabee (Broadway’s The Elephant Man, Atlantic’s Describe the Night), with lighting by Jeff Croiter (Broadway’s Bandstand), and original music and sound design by Jeffrey Lodin (Liberty, a Monumental Musical), the fast past show swims ferociously forward bypassing ridiculousness and somehow avoiding death by drowning. The human sound effects are perfection and just when you start to wonder how this wise and smart show is going to find its way to curtain time, the play reveals its splendor. It circles back to the beginning so neatly and magnificently, just like a log-ride at an amusement park, that you’ll want to stay buckled in for one more turn through the rapids. So stand and cheer for these two fantastic performers, the sharp direction, and the wild water ride down Popcorn Falls that the wise playwright has turned on so brilliantly with a simple blue umbrella. It’s far too much fun to miss. All you need is a fluffy sweater, a bottle of water in order to climb on-board the newly constructed set-boat to get to the surprising Popcorn Falls.