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San Francisco by Richard Connema

An Interesting Popcorn
at Actor's Theatre


I saw both the London and local production of Ben Elton’s best selling novel turned play Popcorn. The Actors Theatre of San Francisco put a new spin on the comedy and I found it better directed and acted than the London Production. The parody of American movies vs. American violence won the Laurence Olivier award for best comedy in 1998. It also ran at the Apollo Theatre for two years.

My first impression of the British production was that it was too “over the top” to be clever. I did not like the general “I hate America” attitude about it. All of the characters looked like caricatures rather than human beings. The true meaning of the play only became clear during the last minutes of the production.

So when Actors Theatre said they were going to producer the play, I was not sure I wanted to see the it again. I had heard there was a new spin on the production so I gave it a shot. I am happy to say that I enjoyed the play and I found it very fascinating. This time the message of violence vs. movie industry was clearly portrayed. The production also boasts a fine ensemble cast.

The plot of Popcorn consists of an egoistical Hollywood producer who makes very violent films that are box office hits. He is supposed to be patterned after Oliver Stone. However, he is more like Quentin Tarantino. The director's latest controversial carnage is up for an Academy Award for best film. He wins the Oscar and returns home from the ceremony with his new bimbo model for a little coke, fun and games. In the meantime, two of America’s most wanted mass murderers have broken into the Hollywood Hills mansion and they have been having a merry time.

The male killer has always idolized the producer and has said his movies have put him on the path of murder. The homicidal maniac girl friend, who is brainless, is very happy to be in the limelight. To make matters worse and to add to the directors problems, his soon to be ex-wife and his daughter come to the house and they get mixed up in the disorder. Also, the director’s producer becomes involved in the affray.

The murderers' master plan is to make the director admit on live television that it is his films that are responsible for turning them into killers. They cite examples like O.J. who got off because of TV coverage. All the networks respond and in the last 15 minutes of the play we view the arguments for and against violence in the movies. I won’t tell you how it ends but it has a wonderful twist ending.

Playwright Ben Elton has tackled this contentious subject and he succeeds in a script that forces you to think about the morals of such films. It was an intense night and dialogue was brilliant.

Director Catherine Castellanos has cast the play well. She also put in some excellent effects of her own. The opening scene features the living room of the Hollywood home of the director. In the center is a large television set. Before the actors enters the first scene, we are “treated” to an eight- minute film clip from scenes from various blood-letting movies. This really sets up the play.

The Hollywood director, Bruce Delametri, was played by Bill English. He was excellent as the egocentric person ready to defend his film, even if it meant sacrificing his life. He particularly shined in his argument for violence near the end of the play.

What made the play really work for me was the superb performance of a young and very talented actor, Paul D’Addario. He had the character of the young killer Wayne Hudson down pat. His accent of “poor white trash” from the south was on the mark. There were times when you actually liked the guy. His girl friend Scout was played by Jennifer Welch. She gave a fine performance who was unprotected and naive one minute and very heartless in the next.

Susi Damilano, who played the money hungry newly-ex wife was marvelous in the role. She wore a great platinum blond wig that made her look like a fading movie star.

The play closed on January 20. The next production at Actor's Theatre will be the play Valpariso, which opens on March 2nd. Paul D’Addario will also be in that production. Visit the Actor's Theatre website for more information.

Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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