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Theater Reviews

Nov 10, 2001 - Ugly vs. Shallow at Nevada Rep! "Popcorn" Does Neither Well

By Jack Neal

Is helter-skelter for laughs, when dark comedy turns ugly?

Ben Eltonís dark comedy, ìPopcorn,î isnít a comedy at all. Itís an ugly outburst on what British-subject Elton finds wrong with Americans and American culture.

Too bad for him. Too bad for us.

ìPopcornî is about as much fun as making up the dialogue members of the Manson family might have shouted while they killed people at Sharon Tateís L.A. mansion just past the middle of the last century. The play, presented by the Nevada Repertory Company, opened Friday night (11/9/2001) at the Redfield Studio Theatre on the University of Nevada, Reno campus before an enthusiastic, near-capacity crowd.

Thereís nothing wrong with laughing at oneself. But being culturally bludgeoned for the better part of two hours, then laughing all the way to a standing ovation is a bit hard to understand.

Americans arenít perfect, but...

In London ìPopcornî won both the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and the Barclays Theatre Award for Best Play. Shame on both, or maybe there just wasnít much that was really good playing the West End that season. It isnít that ìPopcornî doesnít have its moments. It does. There are lots of witty lines. And it isnít that Fridayís audience didnít love it. It obviously did. And maybe it should have, but...

Set in Hollywood on Oscar night, ìPopcornî seemingly starts out to be a lighthearted comedy about the sexual vagaries of film director Bruce Delamitri - vagaries that work their way into his movies. As the evening wears on the chic Delamitri living room is populated by a slew of self-centered Hollywood types: Farrah Delamitri, Bruceís money-mongering ex-wife, Velvet Delamitri, Bruceís spoiled teenage daughter, Karl Brezner, Bruceís egomaniacal producer, and gorgeous Brooke Daniels, whoís done a spread (no pun intended) for ìPlayboyî Magazine but considers herself ìan actress.î Theyíre quite a group. Enter the psychopathic mental case Wayne Hudson and his criminally dysfunctional girlfriend, Scout, and the plot thickens like coagulating blood.

So what goes wrong?

The playís biggest failing is that act two doesnít utilize the promise act one sets up. More of the same becomes more of the same and dreadfully tiresome. Eltonís message that Americans donít take responsibility for their actions (including Hollywood for the sleaze it produces) is an okay premise, if you buy into it and paint all Americans with the same brush. That Eltonís ìPopcornî zigzags through too much cleverness as a substitute for substance dilutes his playís message into something that massages rather than stings. A cleverly written act one (ìKilling is a career option, like teaching or dentistry!î) becomes a spasmodically written act two.

Regardless, ìPopcornî is advertised as thought provoking. It is that. Director Bob Dillard makes the most of the playís many options for titillation and laughs. Tightly directed with a cast thatís wonderfully cast and skilled, ìPopcornî runs just short of two hours.

A poised and confident Bradford D. Kaíaiíai is an entirely believable Bruce Delamitri. As Bruceís shallow ex, Kris Walleck is irritatingly on target. Pert Amanda Ward, Velvet Delamitri, comes off winningly as the no-more-than-skin-deep reflection of her parents. Although he ups the vocal ante on his role a bit too much, Brian Barney doesnít just play at being producer Karl Brezner, he is producer Karl Brezner. Playing ìPlayboyî centerfold Brooke Daniels, Nicole Luchetti has a field day with sexuality in a performance thatís as well done for what she doesnít do, as what she does do.

As Wayne Hudson, Gary L. Metzker is menacing, frightening and quite good. As Wayneís sidekick, Scout, Debby Reiser is sensational. Sweet and caught up in a world of manipulation and rage, Reiser comes closest to giving ìPopcornî a solid reason for being. Reiser brings a vulnerability to her performance thatís not unlike the vulnerability, and ultimately poignancy, Marilyn Monroe managed in ìBus Stop.î If only playwright Elton had done more than scratch the surface with his writing, as does Miss Reiser with the way she looks and the way she delivers lines.

David Seibertís scenic design is appropriately posh. Michael Fernbachís lighting gives Seibertís posh set a sophisticated glow. Sara Fiskís costumes fill the bill nicely.

ìPopcornî can be seen Wednesday through Saturday, November 14 through 17, 2001 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, November 18, at 1:30 p.m. ìPopcornî is plaing at the Redfield Studio Theatre, 900 North Virginia Street, Reno. For information call 775-784-6847.

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