Encore Michigan

Popcorn Falls has plenty of hope in Marine City’s Snug Theatre

Review August 20, 2017 Paula Bradley

MARINE CITY, Mich.–What can you do with a small cast, a handful of props, a small set, on a small stage and in a small town? In the case of Popcorn Falls, it’s possible to wow an audience with well-honed, classic stagecraft skills.

Appearing at The Snug Theatre in Marine City, Popcorn Falls is written by James Hindman, directed by Christian Borle, and contains original music by Jeffrey Lodin.

It is the story of small town on the verge of bankruptcy, whose only hope for survival is to earn a grant from the arts council by putting on a play. The new mayor, Mr. Trundle, is determined to get the money and save the town, but knows nothing about theatre, and must rely on some interesting and eccentric townsfolk, who prefer to be called “kernels” than “citizens.” Of course they are beset by squabbling personalities, self-doubt, and an ill-meaning county official, who would prefer to turn downtown Popcorn Falls into a sewage treatment plant.

There is no clever twist in the plot, until you realize that the “play within the play” is really about . . . the play. The characters dig deep and realize that just because “hope can scare the living daylights out of you,” that is no reason to give up.

Playwright Hindman also stars in the show, and shares the stage with Tom Souhrada; and together they perform all 15 roles. Hindman spends most of his stage time as Mr. Trundle, the new mayor with a past he’d like to forget, but also treats us to his portrayals of a budinsky mom, an elderly Astaire fan, Trundle’s estranged wife and an unforgettable monacle-wearing mortician. Souhrada deftly handles the rest of the roles, mainly Joe the janitor, and Becky the single mom, but also a not-so-trustworthy sheriff, a librarian, a one-armed hardware store owner, a school teacher, a county official and his assistant, a clueless high school girl, and a six-year-old girl.

Hindman and Souhrada have a long combined list of writing and acting credits and awards, including Broadway and touring shows, television and film. But they bring it down to earth on the Snug stage, using their talent and experience to show the audience what true stagecraft is about. There are no costume or set changes (except for the rearrangement of a few chairs and desks). Yet Hindman and Souhrada seamlessly slip from one character into another, often at intervals of only seconds, by utilizing vocal and physical mannerisms, or a utilizing a single clever prop. Once introduced to each character, the audience can easily identify and recognize them as they reappear.

Some of the most entertaining moments of the show happen during town council meetings, the “tryouts” and rehearsals for the new play, when multiple characters appear in the scenes simultaneously. Souhrada even skillfully carries on a fast-paced exchange between two characters by playing both of them. And of course they bring out all 15 characters for curtain call. Hindman and Souhrada cannot rely on fancy sets, amazing costumes or rousing musical numbers to entertain the audience of Popcorn Falls, and in fact they do not need to. They rely solely on old-fashioned theatrical skills and talent, and do so impressively.

On an interesting note: when writing Popcorn Falls, Hindman (who has family in Michigan) was admittedly inspired by the story of theatre owners Kathy and Tom Vertin, and their journey to opening The Snug and The Riverbank Theatres in Marine City. He incorporated some of their stories into the script, which gives a humorous wink and a nod that Snug and Riverbank fans will appreciate.

Popcorn Falls is appearing at The Snug in Marine City through August 27.

Click here for show days, times and details.

Week of 12/10/2018

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