Call it “lesser tuna” with a greater heart. Much like the still-remembered comedy Greater Tuna, James Hindman’s Popcorn Falls is a two-hander where both hands play myriad roles to tell the story of a small community and its eccentrics. Here, the crisis is that the titular town has gone bankrupt and is about to be taken over by an evil mogul who has cut off their water rights. He demands payment and fully anticipates their default. One obstacle to his victory: A big check arrives, earmarked for the town’s theater. One problem: The playhouse has long been out of commission, and there are no actors, no costumes, no sets – oh, and no play either. But in true Andy Hardy mode, the well-meaning Mayor and his handyman pal have themselves one week to put on a show to save Popcorn Falls. Can they do it?
Buoying this silly stuff are the play’s leads, Adam Heller and Tom Souhrada, the former a New York theater veteran for three decades, the latter a longtime voice actor just starting to make his way in New York theater. Both have obvious rapport, with Heller mostly playing one role – the decent, albeit harried, mayor – and Souhrada, in a marathon-level performance, taking on a dozen characters, from a demure waitress to a frowzy former actress to the aforementioned repairman. The speed at which he switches personae is impressive, but more winning is the gentle gravity he gives Betty, the waitress. Her scenes with Mayor Trundle, played ever so quietly – in contrast to the ubiquitous, sometimes exhausting, zaniness elsewhere – give the whole piece a poignant undertow.
That’s important because, as comedy, Popcorn Falls – staged by Christian Borle at off-Broadway’s aptly homey Davenport Theater – offers lots of bemused smiles but admittedly few belly laughs. It’s cute, familiar and more than a little strained. But the quiet bits and overall belief in humanity’s ability to conquer obstacles both personal and external render it an appealing trifle, much like the snack in its title.