Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Popcorn"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


"POPCORN"

by Ben Elton
directed by David J. Miller

Karl Brezner … George Saunier III
Bruce Delamitri … Stephen Epstein
Velvet Delamitri … Caryn Andrea Lindsey
Farrah Delamitri … Jennifer Huth
Wayne Hudson … Jesse Soursourian
Scout … Susan Gross
Brooke Daniels … Naeemah A. White-Peppers
Kirsten … Chris Chanyasulkit
Richard Arum

There are many kinds of magic in the theatre besides a play or its production: there is the dazzling debut of a talented newcomer. There is the role of a lifetime, showcasing all that an actor does best. There is the turnabout role where an established actor relaxes old muscles, stretches new ones and reinvents himself. But I have just seen the sweetest magic of all: the Comeback --- not of an actor but of a theatre company; in this case, the Zeitgeist Stage Company which closes its season with Ben Elton’s devastating satire POPCORN. This has been a disappointing season for Zeitgeist: THE CREDEAUX CANVAS stumbled and FAR AWAY crashed and its resident actress Naeemah A. White-Peppers was acclaimed and awarded despite a stage technique that had not quite jelled. But that was then; this is now: POPCORN is a triumph for everyone involved and places Zeitgeist back on top as one of Boston’s leaders of cutting-edge theatre, surpassing even its now-legendary production of BEE-LUTHER-HATCHEE. Go --- at once.

Mr. Elton bases his play on a real-life incident, that of the banning of the Oliver Stone movie NATURAL BORN KILLERS in Britain, his homeland. Due to the film’s horrific violence, Mr. Stone was accused of inspiring a French couple’s killing spree and therefore responsible for their actions. In POPCORN, director Bruce Delamitri returns to his Hollywood apartment after winning an Oscar for his ultraviolent film ORDINARY AMERICANS, only to find it has been invaded by Wayne and Scout, the notorious “Mall Murderers”. They see Bruce as both the inspiration behind and the cause of their crimes and now want him to plead their case by apologizing on national television … or else. Mr. Elton’s dialogue is sharp enough to bite --- and it does, constantly --- and his unlovable characters, filled with contemporary quirks, are instantly recognizable; their comedy lies in their staying true to form, throughout, i.e. a Playboy centerfold model continues to insist that she is really an actress; the director’s ex-wife, though threatened by psychopaths, refreshes her make-up upon learning she will soon be televised, etc. I will say no more for fear of diffusing the numerous shocks and surprises that are comically horrifying and horrifyingly comical; suffice it to say that POPCORN is a killer rollercoaster where all you can do is to hang on for dear life. Love it or hate it --- and I loved it --- you will not forget it; you may even think twice before putting down money for the next cinematic bloodbath.

The gods have smiled on David J. Miller this time around; never have I seen him direct with a surer hand, and he has been blessed with his greatest ensemble, thus far: raspy-voiced Stephen Epstein is perfect as the huckster director now running for his life in his own home movie, but Jesse Soursourian and Susan Gross gloriously dominate the evening with their over-the-top yet finely shaded performances as America’s Most Wanted and they are so well-contrasted: Mr. Soursourian speaks deceptively slow and lazy-like whereas Ms. Gross is rabidly perky --- when things grow tense, his Wayne grins like a sleepy child while her Scout turns positively feral (my own adrenalin level was pumping so high by Act Two that when Mr. Soursourian casually pointed a remote control in my direction I almost jumped out of my skin.). Ms. White-Peppers, as the Playboy model (“Actress!”), is the show’s delightful surprise, showing the seeds of a comedienne (she does a funny/sexy panty-hose striptease before the games begin); Ms. White-Peppers will be on maternity leave after POPCORN closes --- when she returns may she continue to stretch in comedy’s direction. Once again, Mr. Miller has designed his own stylish set; here, an immaculate, balanced living room overlooking the Hollywood hills. Everything is so neatly in place you just KNOW that messy things are bound to happen, there.

This has proved to be a rich year for comedy in the Boston area --- all kinds; light and dark --- but none will surpass POPCORN in its daring and its moral outrage. If American culture is truly as bad as Mr. Elton paints it to be and one must either laugh or go mad over it, the Zeitgeist production is the perfect place to go down laughing. Congratulations to Mr. Miller & Company for their courage in taking on Mr. Elton’s vision and their artistry to pull it off. I’m still stunned.

"Popcorn" (14 May - 5 June)
ZEITGEIST STAGE COMPANY
BCA Black Box Theatre, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 426-ARTS

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide

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