BWW Review: POPCORN FALLS is Laugh-Out-Loud Comedic Genius
How many characters can you expect to see in a play set in a small town, on a small stage, with a cast of two? If you guessed two, you couldn't be more wrong. No, when it comes to Popcorn Falls, try ten times that.
The play opens with two men, Mr. Trundle, the mayor of the titular town, played by Adam Heller, and Joe, the custodian, played by Tom Souhrada. The men are holding a meeting to try to get funding for their town, which recently lost its only claim to fame, and source of income, its namesake waterfall.
Mr. Trundle is presented with a solution, a grant that was written specifically to fund a play. If they receive the grant, they can save the town, but there's only one problem. The town has no playhouse, no actors, and definitely no play to put on.
Trundle makes it his goal to put on a play, despite the odds, so he can save his beloved town. He casts a slew of hilarious, and very distinct characters, all portrayed by Souhrada and Heller themselves, including a one-armed hardware salesman, a chainsmoking school teacher, a librarian, and a stereotypical "dumb" teen girl.
When Trundle befriends the bartender at his favorite pub, Becky, a single mom and actress who set aside her dreams when she became pregnant, he realizes she's the missing piece he needs. Becky, along with her 6 year old daughter, are both also played by Souhrada, which becomes even more interesting to watch when we learn that Becky and Joe the janitor have history.
Among Souhrada's other roles are the county official and a sheriff, who share many scenes together. This is where the genius in Souhrada's performance lies. He shifts effortlessly between the characters, who converse with each other often.
The most entertaining, and awe-inspiring, parts of this play were during the "play practice" where Souhrada takes on all of his roles. Heller is mostly playing Trundle during these scenes, but he also takes on the role of a mortician in a monocle, who was cast in the play.
These scenes are when Souhrada's genius shows through the most. He jumps between accents, personality traits, and types of body language, like the characters are physically embodying him. I found myself forgetting that the same actor was playing all of these roles.
The rest of the plot is pretty straightforward. Trundle predictably ends up with Becky, and the play is able to go on, despite the attempts from the county official and the sheriff to foil the troupe's efforts.
However, there is one catch.
The "villains" turned the falls back on, stopping the actors from getting to the performance space. The set and props are ruined and the actors are stuck. Time is running out and Trundle and Joe are the only men left who know the play.
Realization hit the real-life audience in the Davenport when a play with only two actors is mentioned. These two men are going to put on the play themselves, and take on all of the characters.
The play ends where it begins, with Mr. Trundle and Joe chaotically running about the stage to set it for the play to begin. Mr. Trundle speaks in a microphone to start the "meeting" that took place at the beginning of the play, and then, blackout. The play we were watching was the play Mr. Trundle wrote all along.
For a directorial debut, Christian Borle took on a beast. This play required expert direction to be executed properly, and Borle rose to the occasion.
The laugh-out-loud funny moments and always fascinating portrayal of multiple characters by one actor made the play quite enjoyable, but the plot twist at the end is what solidified it for me. The play-within-a-play trope may be overdone, but I'm always a sucker for it when it comes as a surprise at the end.
Popcorn Falls has all of the components required for a hit. I can see this play having a long life not only professionally, but in schools and community theatres across the country.
Photo Credit: Monique Carboni