Natural Born Theater

One of the best plays this year tackles the funny topic of sex and violence

In actions that are more comical than sexy, Wayne and Scout stop to declare their undying love in a frenzy of pelvis grinding and neck biting in the play's most volatile moments. Claire Tyler projects such simultaneous displays of lust and aggression so convincingly that the connection between sex and violence seems undeniable. At the same time she is childlike. While Wayne launches into a diatribe, she fidgets and giggles, snapping her gum like an overanxious cheerleader. The enthusiasm she and Wayne have for murder and their own fame is darkly naive and funny.

True to Hollywood form, Bob Rogerson as Bruce is a chameleon mix of artistic integrity and sellout politics. He vacillates from the tortured misunderstood artist to big-spending husband, father, and asshole to indignant liberal, defending his rights of free speech. When he finally wins an Academy Award, he gives the most effusive bootlicking speech known to man, and when he grasps the statue he had formerly scoffed at, he shouts victoriously: "You're mine now, you little eunuch!"

Because of the class differences between Bruce and his kidnappers, the set is crucial, and Rich Simone does not disappoint. Modern lines and stucco, the bar for entertaining, glass table for coke snorting, and Italian leather couch for wannabe-actress defrocking all make for the perfect Beverly Hills home­cum­bachelor pad. It's also the perfect place for undeniably Hollywood-brat wisecracks from daughter Velvet (Lehr), who informs her father that no matter how much of a jerk he is, "You're still emotionally relevant to me." The four-panel faux Warhol featuring Bruce adds a nice visual touch to the parody.

Popcorn uses TV screens on stage to reveal clips from Bruce's movies and in later scenes the televised kidnapping of Bruce and company. This creates a sharp contrast between the anesthetizing glare of the screen and the pulse and sweat of real life on the stage. "It's the Wayne and Scout village," Scout yells triumphantly when an underwear-clad camera crew arrives. What we realize from seeing their drama unfold on the screens is that, despite the astronomical budgets and special effects of film, the best home for Popcorn is the stage. Although the gunshots don't sound as real on stage, the action is much edgier -- from Brooke's quirky striptease to Wayne's violent outbursts -- and we realize this by watching both stage and screen versions simultaneously. Adler as director has managed to do something that should be an inspiration to all: He has made the genre relevant by giving it a context. Popcorn is a success because it's good theater, but it's also a success simply because it is theater. This is an achievement that few South Florida theaters strive to accomplish and is crucial for those who want to bring in new and younger audiences. Lucky for us this comedy has found a home at GableStage. If I could send potential theatergoers (especially those under age 40) to one play this year, it would be Popcorn.

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