BWW Review: The Play's the Thing: POPCORN FALLS at the Good Theater
In the Good Theater's delightful winter comedy, the play is the thing to rescue the moribund town of Popcorn Falls from the clutches of a greedy, self-serving villain who would turn its main street into a sewage plant. The citizens, led by their mayor, hatch the improbable solution of creating a theatre company and a play to win grant money needed to revitalize the town. James Hindman's multi-character drama, played by two actors, seizes on this premise and imbues the situation with breathless comedic wit and zany antics, punctuated by moments of touching poignancy.
Hindman's writing is a skilled combination of the familiar and foreseeable plot elements and character types and the fresh, jarring incongruity of genuine comedy. His two protagonists - the beleaguered Mayor Trundle and his Everyman cohort Joe, the janitor - retain a certain iconic quality, while the host of townsfolk who surround them are each colorful caricatures of small town life. Some of the funniest moments come in the playwright's allusions to great theatre literature, juxtaposing the apparent naiveté of the characters with a sophisticated insider joke.
The 2018 Off-Broadway hit proves an excellent vehicle for the intimate Good Theater and the talents of director Steve Underwood, who capitalizes on his own adroit skills as an actor in playing multiple roles, and imparts to his two-man cast the chameleon virtuosity necessary to create a broad range of characters, accents, physicalities, and gender swapping performances. Making use of his clever set design that uses two doorways, suitable for this kind of "revolving door" farce, a simple assortment of props (Jared Mongeau), and a selection of costume accessories to signal the character shifts (Justin Cote), Underwood helps his actors find the rapid-fire pacing and sense of surprise that keeps the sometimes predictable plot afloat. Underwood's sound design and music choices help keep the action moving and the device of scrawling in chalk on an old-fashioned blackboard the names of the scene's locations is an appropriately folksy touch. Iain Odlin provides the expert lighting design, with Craig Robinson serving as technical Director and Michael Lynch as Stage Manager.
The nature of the play itself requires an exceptional pair of actors, and the Good has found this in two new faces: Philip Hobby as Mayor Trundle and other townsfolk and Nathan Gregory as Joe and a series of other cleverly etched portrayals, among them the villainous Mr. Doyle, the wistful Becky and her daughter Lydia, the imperious librarian Ms. Parker, and the over-the-hill siren middle school teacher Mrs. Stepp. Both performances are true tour de forces with the actors turning on a dime to change characters by shifting accent and body language and donning a hat apron or other accessory. There are moments when they even swap characters in the middle of a scene, and to their credit they establish their identities so clearly that there is never any confusion for the audience. In a play about plays and theatre, Hobby and Gregory's performances are testaments to the dynamic quality of changing masks that is the actor's craft.
POPCORN FALLS is at once a silly, savvy sophisticated play and the perfect tonic for Maine winter blues!
Photographs courtesy of the Good Theater, Steve Underwood, photographer
POPCORN FALLS runs from January 8 - February 2,2020, at the Good Theater, 76 Congress Street, Portland, ME 207-835-0895 www.goodtheater.com