By Daniel Skora
Popcorn Falls is your quintessential Mid-West American small town. Its single traffic light at the main intersection always flashes yellow. It has lots of other one-ofs, like a single law enforcement officer and the lone diner where everyone knows your name. Its claim to fame is the nearby falls from which the town takes its name and whose cascading waters translate into tourist dollars that feed the local economy. George Washington is said to have once camped beside the falls and the locals delight in referring to themselves as “Kernels”. Except that now the falls have mysteriously dried up, putting an end to the town’s only real source of income. Something must be done or the local factory may find itself displaced by a sewage plant, destroying the town’s quaintness forever.
“Popcorn Falls” is the World Premier of a new comedy by James Hindman at Ann Arbor’s Theatre Nova. The play is a kind of “Our Town”, where you meet many of the people who live there and get a feel for the things that are important to their daily lives. Mr. Trundle is the mayor, and upon his shoulders now rests the enormous task of coming up with a plan to save the town. His nemesis is Mr. Doyle, the head of the Planning Commission who appears to have his own interests in mind when it comes to what should happen to the town. Miraculously, a generous grant promises to solve the problem. But the money comes with strings attached: the town has but one week to produce and put on a play or the money will be forfeited. What happens during that week as the mayor and the citizens of Popcorn Falls attempt to save their town and its heritage is what this fast and frantic 90-minute comedy is all about. It’s also a nifty piece of writing by playwright Hindman.
The play’s dozen and more characters, young and old, male and female, quirky and otherwise, are all played by just two actors. Jonathan Jones and Jeff Priskorn are both talented actors who plow through the story at sometimes breakneck speed. Priskin is kept busy playing the mayor and a handful of other characters. Jones is the show’s workhorse, creating the bulk of the town’s citizens, including the handyman Joe, the town cop Austin, and Becky, the counter girl at the Sudsy Mug Restaurant. There are no costume changes, and the actors segue from character to character with changes in voice, posture, and mannerisms, and occasionally by way of a quick trip through two doors, exiting as one character and reentering as another. The scantly furnished set leaves plenty of opportunity for audience imaginations to go into overdrive. Scene changes are foretold by the actors writing each new location on a blackboard attached to the steadfast Yellow Barn pole, which always has its own unique way of interjecting itself into every Theatre Nova show.
“Popcorn Falls” is a delightful mix of comedy, bravura performances by two accomplished actors, and a side dish of tantalizing snippets about plays and the theatre. The show is directed by Daniel C. Walker who, like the actors, plays multiple roles as set and lighting designer. Carla Milarch contributes sound design and Emily-Ann Jugowicz is the show’s stage manager. It runs through February 12th. Tickets are pay-what-you-can with a suggested donation of $20. They are available by calling 734.635-8450. Theatre Nova is located at 416 W. Huron Street in the Yellow Barn, a stone’s throw off the road in downtown Ann Arbor.