Cast Brings Gusto to Midnight Company's Production of Trifling 'Popcorn Falls'
by Marc Bretz
April 4, 2019
Story: Tough times are upon Popcorn Falls. With its namesake waterfall, the main source of income for the quaint little town, dried up, the residents are in a tight spot. They need revenue and fast.
The venal head of a nearby corporation is unmoved by the plight of Popcorn Falls, telling the mayor that the town is slated to become one big sewage plant. But the townsfolk do have one hope. There's a sizable grant available to the local theater troupe if it can produce a play. The slick, slimy corporate guy says sarcastically he'll even give the town's anxious mayor an entire week to get that show mounted.
That's a ridiculously brief time period, but that isn't the mayor's biggest challenge. Since the town has no theater company nor even a theater, the mayor and his town hall handyman, along with sundry area eccentrics, need to write, cast, rehearse, direct and produce the play some place real soon to get that grant and keep Popcorn Falls solvent. And you thought you had problems.
Highlights: Joe Hanrahan and Shane Signorino move at a frenetic pace to deliver James Hindman's amusing trifle with gusto that would make the 'kernels' of Popcorn Falls (the residents like that honorary title) proud to call them kindred townsfolk.
Other Info: Hindman's one-act, 90-minute comedy opened off-Broadway last September and closed in November 2019 after 28 previews and 56 performances. Given the show's lightweight, fluffy premise and'small' nature, it's no surprise that it closed after such a brief run.
The prolific playwright also is an actor, keeping himself busy in theater, TV and movies. Popcorn Falls is a valentine of sorts to theater folks in general, and doubtless those involved in'show business' lead the charge for applause.
It's a sweet enough little tale, made amusing and somewhat entertaining by director Sarah Whitney and her hard-working cast. Hanrahan brings an easy likability to the role of Mr. Trundle, the well-meaning mayor who has a bit of a checkered past but nonetheless brings a smile to a waitress at the local diner.
Although Hindman's dialogue often tries too hard to be funny, Hanrahan and Signorino have a grand time playing 21 parts, often successfully conveying those good feelings to the audience. It's especially humorous to see Signorino switch identities in the quick time it takes him to walk behind an on-stage curtain and emerge as a different character with just guile and gesticulations.
The duo are zany enough to bring to mind old-time comedies where timing was king, although Hanrahan also can deliver the occasional heartfelt dialogue in Hindman's straining script. Signorino throws himself into roles as diverse as a snooty teacher and an eccentric librarian as well as the affable 'executive custodian' of Popcorn Falls.
Set designer Chuck Winning provides a chalkboard where Hanrahan can set up various scenes and Tony Anselmo adds the complementary lighting. There's also an abundance of pop tunes filling the brief snippets of time between vignettes.
Popcorn can be tasty and appealing even if one questions its nutritional value after consumption. Popcorn Falls is a fitting title for Hindman's earnest if forgettable throwaway piece, made palatable by the winning efforts of The Midnight Company's effervescent cast.
Endearing performances ensure ‘Popcorn Falls’ overflows with laughter and hopeful possibility
by Tina Farmer
April 3, 2019
Most St. Louis theater fans are aware of The Midnight Company’s reputation for producing entertaining and fully realized small cast shows. Frequently, their productions are one-man plays with Joe Hanrahan creating multiple characters in distinct detail and Sarah Whitney providing strong, focused direction with a critical eye. For the delightfully chipper “Popcorn Falls,” the two add merry prankster Shane Signorino in a star turn that’s touching and hilarious and many feelings in between.
Hanrahan, as Popcorn Falls new mayor Ted Trundle, and Signorino, as the town’s executive custodian Joe, establish an easy back and forth that’s friendly and supportive. And that’s good, because they need each other if they’re going to start a theater company (something neither of them seem particularly suited for) and save the town from a greedy county executive.
Honestly, the breezy play by James Hindman treads a familiar path with few twists. A small town facing a crisis is saved by a loyal citizen and an outsider, in this case the new mayor, with a dash of romance thrown in for extra interest. The company’s decision to keep the set, props and technical elements simple complements the show’s plot and pacing while providing plenty of opportunities for prop-based humor. Ultimately, however, it’s the performances and not the pedestrian script that make the show worth watching, and Hanrahan and Signorino are at the top of their game and fully committed.
Hanrahan fills his middle aged, about to be divorced everyman of a mayor with infectious energy and optimism as well as very real flaws and insecurities. Though he seems motivated by a need for personal redemption, he comes to embrace the town’s survival as a cause bigger than himself and to consider the residents his friends and neighbors. Signorino plays the majority of the other characters with gleeful aplomb, as Hanrahan’s mayor is our hero and almost always on stage.
Director Whitney and Signorino make smart choices here, with minor characters affecting more exaggerated physical and vocal traits to help us quickly identify them. Important characters, like Joe and the mayor’s love interest Becky, are more natural and realistically performed. The mix works well and to humorous effect, particularly in scenes where both actors must quickly change characters and position.
The implausible script offers a coterie of interesting townsfolk to recruit for help, a satisfying villain and a budding romance along with secret fears and unresolved personal truths. The actors work through each challenge in ways that are laugh out loud funny and totally entertaining. The result is a rather predictable story with an undertone of finding your place in the world and fighting to make it last. Luckily, the performances shine, ensuring The Midnight Company’s production of “Popcorn Falls,” continuing through April 14, is a laughter filled good time.
St Louis Public Radio
Flirtation With Fear Entices Actor Joe Hanrahan To Wear Many Hats In One Show
by Nancy Fowler
March 27, 2019
Even after 40 years on stage, St. Louis actor Joe Hanrahan still relishes the nervous anticipation of opening a show. Each time he prepares to step into the spotlight, he asks himself, “Can we pull this off?” Hanrahan, who co-founded the Midnight Company theater ensemble in 1997, has spent much of his career starring in one-person shows or playing multiple roles in shows with small casts. He thoroughly enjoys the prospect of rapidly switching between different characters onstage, say, from a 12-year-old girl to a misogynist older man. It’s thrilling and also terrifying, especially just before the curtain goes up, like taking that first step onto a tightrope. “I like to be scared of a show,” Hanrahan said. “That’s the only time I ever get nervous, is just before a show, and I just say to myself, ‘Oh, I hope this is worth the audience’s time.’”
On Thursday, Midnight presents its first performance of “Popcorn Falls” by James Hindman. Hanrahan is one of two actors playing 21 residents of a small town facing bankruptcy. The plot revolves around someone digging up a forgotten check from an arts council that’s worthless unless the townspeople can successfully mount a theater production in a week.
“No one knows anything about doing a play,” Hanrahan said. “And so they've got to like scramble together to save the town.” Decades ago, Hanrahan initially scrambled to wrap his head around his first one-person show, called “Drinking in America,” by Eric Bogosian. But he quickly grew to love the art form. Since then, he figures he’s played more than 150 characters in various plays. The record is 12 in one show. Making them all distinctive is part of the thrill and one of the biggest challenges. Hanrahan’s strategies include giving each character a specific hand movement or stance as well as a signature voice.
“You have to make sure the audience knows who you are,” Hanrahan said. “And usually in addition to whatever you can do to make that character distinct, you try to maybe give them certain spots on the stage.” The process starts about a month before a show opens. Hanrahan breaks down the script into chunks for easier tackling. “When I work with a director, I say, ‘Next week, I will bring in these pages,” he said. “You build it up, and then you have the show down by the time you open.” There are definitely advantages in being in a small cast, and especially in being the only actor in one-person shows. “They’re very convenient,” Hanrahan said. “You get a lot of rehearsal done in the shower — or in your car.”
St Louis Post-Dispatch
Actors shine in Midnight Company's 'Popcorn Falls'
by Calvin Wilson
April 2, 2019
What actor wouldn't want to appear in 'Popcorn Falls,' the Midnight Company production running through April 13?
After all, the comedy by James Hindman features two main roles and an abundance of tangential ones - played by the same two actors. And the success of the play depends on how well they can bring it all off without the entire show coming across as too gimmicky.
For reasons too complicated to get into, the economic future of a small town depends on whether new mayor Trundle (Joe Hanrahan) and janitor Joe (Shane Signorino) can put on a play, with the help of townspeople who tend toward the eccentric.
Problem is, neither Trundle nor Joe is quite up to the task. But if they can create a new play and get it on its feet, they'll be able to do the same for their town.
'Popcorn Falls' is best appreciated as a showcase for Hanrahan and Signorino, who fully embrace the play's wackiness and gleefully fit into the skins of its characters. Hanrahan's hangdog demeanor - not unlike that of Buster Keaton - lends the proceedings a comic boost. He's totally believable as a city official who realizes that he's in over his head but is determined to forge ahead anyway. Signorino, who was impressive in the recent SATE production of 'No Exit,' shifts between personas with quicksilver speed. And he renders each of them a distinct individual while remaining in sync with the play's manic energy.
Director Sarah Whitney keeps things moving with aplomb, even when Hindman indulges in jokes about the act of creating theater that are a bit too precious. As comedies go, 'Popcorn Falls' is little more than adequate, and it's unclear just what point - if any - it's trying to make. But as an acting showcase, it pops.
St. Louis Limelight
Silly Shenanigans Ensue in Two-Man Tour De Force'Popcorn Falls'
by Lynn Venhause
April 6, 2019
Spry actors Joe Hanrahan and Shane Signorino slip into 21 different characters to play the denizens of “Popcorn Falls,” a daffy mix of vignettes designed to showcase performers’ strengths while paying tribute to small-town personalities – and the power of theater.
This average American town, whose residents prefer to be called ‘kernels", has seen better days, and is in danger of bankruptcy because their waterfall has dried up, no thanks to a new dam. Without their claim to fame, tourists and commerce has vanished. But a greedy corporation is ready to pounce, with plans to demolish the town and turn it into a sewage treatment center. Can the town be saved? Because of an old arts grant, they can get enough money – but writing and producing the play must be done in a week — despite the lack of a theater and experienced thespians. Shades of Blaine, Missouri, the center of “Waiting for Guffman”. Or Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland practicing in a barn – “Hey kids! Let’s put on a show!”
Can this absurd solution work? Sure, if our dynamic duo of intrepid mayor (Hanrahan) and loyal custodian (Signorino) be the heroes and rally the town with the grant money dangling before them. But in the bigger picture, can art save the world? You can clearly figure out playwright James Hindman’s thought process. While the optimism is unwavering in this 2017 off-Broadway comedy, the farcical material isn’t as amusing as the portrayals. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Popcorn Falls resembles other quirky fictional settings that evoke warm and humorous memories – Stars Hollow, Mayberry, Greater Tuna, Bedford Falls – heck, even “Frostbite Falls” from “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.” It provides the basis for wacky characters and nutty situations, even if it’s derivative.
The pairing of Hanrahan and Signorino is inspired, with their skills and talent enough to convincingly conjure up a cadre of zany townsfolk. Hanrahan’s Ted Trundle, the beleaguered new mayor on the verge of divorce, shares quite an interesting backstory. He is counting on the neighboring county’s budget committee to bail them out, and enthusiastically gathers folks at the library to cobble together the plot. Well, this turns into a free-for-all what-did-I-get-myself-into scenario. Signorino’s main man is head custodian Joe, who is shown at work and at home. He frets about supporting his growing family if the town goes belly-up. He also transforms into the majority of characters – including a female bartender at The Sudsy Mug (as does Hanrahan), her precocious young daughter, the dramatic cat-lady librarian who fancies herself an actress, the snaky corrupt county official, dim but well-meaning sheriff, the one-armed owner of the lumber yard, and a chain-smoking middle-school teacher with a vivid imagination. Hanrahan portrays the local mortician who wants to act in the show. Both stalwarts of the local theater community, Hanrahan and Signorino work together in the manner of classic comedy duos, manic improv pairs and old-timey vaudeville/variety acts. They know how to work a crowd, with Hanrahan basically the straight man to Signorino’s goofy multitudes, and can easily switch into various roles. In an impressive turn, Signorino rises to the demand of performing all his characters during the original play’s dress rehearsal. Instead of costume changes, the characters are distinguished by vocal adjustments, attitudes, posture, and perhaps a hat or accessory or prop.
This is the kind of show The Midnight Company excels at, usually one-acts with little frills but ambitious and often unique and interesting material, realized by a strong but small cast. Director Sarah Whitney has deftly guided the pair for maximum madcap effect. If at any time it is confusing, that’s the fault of the thin script and not the nimble actors. Hanrahan is nearly in view the entire time while Signorino rushes about to accommodate the others. The pair seemed to be having fun — but the parts are a challenge because of the fast pace.
The simple staging in the Kranzberg Center’s black box gives the men a small space to fill with their clever characterizations in the well-worn “play within a play” format. Chuck Winning has designed a functional bare-bones set, replicating a budget-strapped town hall meeting room. Scene changes are announced on a small blackboard, and it would help to clean the board every night, for the layers of chalk dust make it difficult to read the later scenes. Tony Anselmo created a straightforward lighting design that works well within the small confines. Even though the material is lightweight, Hanrahan and Signorino do considerable heavy-lifting, and they muster enough charm to sell it, along with their sincerity and veteran work ethic. Now, if only the squirrels wouldn’t chomp on the town hall wires because Popcorn Falls can’t afford traps.
St Louis Eats and Drinks
by Ann Pollack
April 1, 2019
Delightfully goofy. That’s The Midnight Company’s Popcorn Falls. A two-person comedy? Well, two actors. But not two characters. Way not two characters. Joe Hanrahan and Shane Signorino give us, seemingly, half the population of the small town of Popcorn Falls. The town has been, ahem, left up the creek by a dam diverting the water source of the falls for which the burg is named. Hanrahan’s primary character is the town’s mayor, a relative newcomer to Popcorn Falls. Signorino is mainly Joe, the “executive custodian” at City Hall. The county executive built the dam and wants to build a sewage plant where Popcorn Falls is. The town’s bankrupt since tourists coming to see the falls (maybe even the spot where George Washington dined, or at least ate a picnic) have evaporated, so there’s no money to fight the crooked county exec. But wait – there’s an arts grant that they’re entitled to! Arts? They have no theatre, no galleries. Nevertheless, they’ll do it themselves. “Hey, gang, let’s put on a show!” is brought to a new level.
Hanrahan and Signorino live up to their full potential with this script, and the black box at the Kranzberg is a fine venue for the work, which depends far more on the actors than anything else. Still the set, more complicated than the unknowing might think, is fun and workable, courtesy of Chuck Winning. Tony Anselmo’s lighting gives us a lot of help with changing scenes. Sarah Whitney, an associate director for The Midnight Company, directed. Playwright James Hindman is, not surprisingly, also an actor, so it’s no wonder this is a piece that lets actors really throw themselves into their work. Good fun, relaxing and with a rewarding twist at the end.
Snoops Theatre Thoughts
Midnight Company’s “Popcorn Falls” is Full of Character
by Michelle Kenyon
April 6, 2019
Popcorn Falls is the latest quirky, offbeat production from Joe Hanrahan’s Midnight Company. Hanrahan is well-known in St. Louis for his one-man shows, but he has also shared the stage with an array of excellent local performers. This time, Hanrahan and Shane Signorino team up with director Sarah Whitney to stage a hilariously energetic comedy of hopes, dreams, and a host of memorable characters.
As is usual for Midnight shows, the staging is minimal, with just a few furniture pieces and props, and that’s all that’s needed here, along with some occasional simple costume changes as the actors change from one character to another. The main figures in the story–set in the declining small town of Popcorn Falls–are new mayor Ted Trundle (Hanrahan), and janitor Joe (Signorino), who find themselves teaming up to save the town from power-hungry county executive Doyle (also Signorino) who aims to tear down Popcorn Falls and build a sewage treatment plant in its place. The ray of hope comes in the form of a financial grant that was awarded for the purpose of financing a theatre group in the town–but there isn’t one, so Mayor Trundle sets out to start one with the aim of putting on a play in order to receive the money and save the town, even after Doyle has given them the seemingly impossible deadline of one week in which to stage this production. Through the course of the show, we meet a varied cast of characters who are assembled to be part of this show, and we learn more about everyone as relationships grow, backstories are revealed, and the characters encounter a series of increasingly difficult obstacles in their efforts to save the town.
With this show, the story is fun, but it’s the performers who essentially are the show. Hanrahan and Signorino are both impressive in their energy and presence, bringing a host of characters to life, with Hanrahan’s hapless Trundle and Signorino’s regretful Joe being the anchors. Hanrahan is excellent as usual, and Signorino–who has the most characters to play–is equally impressive, introducing the audience to such different personalities as an imperious librarian, a moody teenage girl, a single mother and aspiring actress, the villainous Doyle, and more. The interplay between these actors and their characters, along with the clever staging to allow for the quick changes–including both performers playing the same character at different times when needed–adds to the comedy and flow of the production. The simple set by Chuck Winning and lights by Tony Anselmo work well to maintain the overall improvised feel of the production, supporting playwright James Hindman’s fast-moving script.
This is a simple, somewhat frantic production that gets its energy–and its heart–from its performers. It’s not a long show, but there’s a lot going on, with something of a twist to the ending that’s entirely fitting to the tone of the show. Ultimately, Popcorn Falls is a fun show.
Judy Act Two
Two two-handers offer generous handfuls of pleasure
April 2, 2019
Taken together, a pair of very entertaining shows that opened here last weekend reveal a theatrical truth: Little productions belong in little theaters. “Daddy Long Legs,” a musical from Insight Theatre Company, and “Popcorn Falls,” a comedy from the Midnight Company, each has exactly two actors. But in their petite, well-proportioned venues – the Marcelle for Insight and the Kranzberg for Midnight – neither show looks skimpy. Instead, they seem intimate, a huge plus. That brings the audience and the actors so close together, they give each other almost tangible support.
Based on a 1912 novel that was once immensely popular (and even loaned its title and rudimentary plot points to a Fred Astaire/Leslie Caron movie), “Daddy Long Legs” is a sung-through musical – a perfect way to capture the style of Jean Webster’s epistolary novel. Here, under the direction of Maggie Ryan, it might be the best production Insight ever has staged. Jennifer Theby-Quinn is simply radiant – sweet and smart, funny and anxious, vocally luminous and utterly at ease – as young Jerusha. With his fine voice and diffident manner, Terry Barber matches her well as Jervis, her shy, generous benefactor. Jerusha, the oldest inmate of a stern orphanage has very limited prospects for her future – until a member of the board of directors notices her happy manner and efficiency. That’s Jervis, a very wealthy, socially awkward young man. Without letting Jerusha know his identity, he offers to send her way to college, all expenses paid. He asks only that she write to him monthly to keep him posted. But he’ll won’t write back, he warns. Determined to preserve his anonymity, he tells her to call him Mr. Smith. That’s too dull for imaginative Jerusha. Having glimpsed him once in shadow, she notices his height and long arms, and names him for the insect. She imagines he’s an eccentric old man. For most of the play, Jervis occupies the upper level of the stage, a gracious study, while Jerusha takes the fluid lower level, regularly reconfigured. Rob Lippert designed the set and lighting. Over the next couple of hours, we watch Jerusha blossom from a nearly-enslaved inmate to a poised, studious young lady who makes friends – ultimately including her roommate’s delightful Uncle Jervis. Confusion reigns until the very last scene. The show, by Paul Gordon and John Caird, gets loving, lyrical treatment from an instrumental trio under music director Scott Schoonover. The songs are also well-proportioned, advancing the story at a comfortable pace. Barber unfortunately wears a wig that does not fit well, a real shame because Daddy’s hair (or lack of it) occupies much of Jerusha’s fantasy life. But that’s a minor miss in this enchanting little show. Bring children, bring grandma, and most of all bring yourself. It’s a charmer.
Things are a good deal rougher at “Popcorn Falls,” a little town on the verge of bankruptcy. A greedy developer is shutting off the water from the Falls to drive the town out of existence. Joe Hanrahan and Shane Signorino play all the characters: the desperate new mayor, the developer, an attractive waitress, a crazy cat-lover, a harried dad, and many many more. Working with only a handful of crude props, they sketch out these characters in bold, hilarious strokes, making each so recognizable that we know them as soon as he or she makes a second entrance. Under the direction of Sarah Whitney, Hanrahan and Signorino are all that “Popcorn Falls” needs to keep the situation simultaneously outrageous and clear. That’s some accomplishment. The mayor and some supporters decide their only chance to save the town is to put on a play, a task for which they are entirely unequipped. But playwright James Hindman’s comedy is fundamentally a salute to theater and its power to transcend circumstance. At one point, the frustrated mayor (Hanrahan), defying a series of disasters, announces that all you really need to create theater is two actors. But that’s not exactly right. There are lots of one-man plays. (Hanrahan practically specializes in them.) And you also need at least one more person, to be the audience.