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The masters of minimalism behind 'Popcorn Falls'

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REVIEW

I counted 16 speaking parts in “Popcorn Falls.” The roles embrace characters old and young, male and female with various occupations that include mayor, janitor, waitress, sheriff, schoolteacher, undertaker, librarian and one-handed carpenter.  I also counted only two cast members in my Williamston Theatre program.

The Playbill was correct.

It’s true that Aral Gribble plays Mr. Trundle, the new mayor of “Popcorn Falls”— a small town where a landmark waterfalls, and hope, seems to have dried up.  As listed, Patrick Loos certainly plays “Joe” — the mayor’s “executive custodian.” In less than 90 minutes, with no intermission, the pair also manages to portray all the various townsfolk and characters in “Popcorn Falls.”

Using the “William Tell Overture” to start and end the play was the perfect soundtrack for a rapidly moving, rotating multi-role spectacle.

Loos assumes most of the roles with minimal props and no costume change.  A comb becomes a villain’s mustache, a pencil identifies a smoking teacher, a mop head is a cat and a duster is a head adornment. Many of the embellishments defining character switches come from Joe’s custodial cart.  The ridiculously limited alterations are a big part of the amusement in “Popcorn Falls.”  Loos’ outrageousness and wild role shifting earns the most laughs in a full-of-chuckles play.

Although Gribble switches to only about a third of the play’s characters — never abandoning his three-piece suit — Gribble adds more voice alterations.  Both actors are equally adept at racing from scene to scene and role to role with a rehearsed accuracy that dazzles.  Their non-stop personality and mood changes are dream challenges for master actors and a nightmare for novices.  The experienced Loos and Gribble clearly master the rapid and complex changes in “Popcorn Falls” with an athletic and melodramatic finesse.

Sometimes the action portrayed by the duo is more mime than traditional acting.  Feigning drinking from imaginary glasses or running a cash register that isn’t there — with exaggerated vocal imitations — adds to the folly.

Director Dave Davies keeps the ever-shifting madness running smoothly.  Lex van Blommestein’s minimal set is a suitable playground for a play that indeed becomes the ground for a play-within-the-play.

Alexis Grace Clark provides the numerous props and physical gimmicks that allow the actors to bounce from one persona to another, including a chalkboard to label many of the scenes.  Music stands and a podium are cleverly adapted to represent multiple pieces of furniture.  Simple things provide multifarious options.

The charm of the play is mostly watching the actors quickly transform into often hilarious characters.

On the other hand, James Hindman—who is also an actor—writes a script that has unpredictable, corny jokes suitable for movies such as “Airplane!” or “Naked Gun.” And making fun of theatre in “Popcorn Falls” helps make seeing it in a theater more fun.

The official opening night crowd laughed all through the zingers, silly character conversions and occasional bathroom humor. They gave it a raucous standing ovation at its end.

Just like the play, Williamston Theatre caps its 13th season with a happy ending.

"Popcorn Falls"
Through July 28
Williamston Theatre
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 3 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
Starting at $28: Students $10, Seniors $2 discount
122 S. Putnam St. Williamston, MI
(517) 655-7469

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