Review: ‘Popcorn’

Popcorn

What would happen if the murderous duo from Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers" were to become a flesh-and-blood reality, invading the director's home to demand he take responsibility for the world's film-glorified violence? Such is the premise of Ben Elton's brutal, yet horrifically funny encounter between haughty splatter film king Bruce Delamitri and crude but media savvy young serial killer Wayne Hudson.

What would happen if the murderous duo from Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” were to become a flesh-and-blood reality, invading the director’s home to demand he take responsibility for the world’s film-glorified violence? Such, essentially, is the premise of Brit scribe Ben Elton’s brutal, yet horrifically funny encounter between haughty splatter film king Bruce Delamitri (Maxwell Caulfield) and crude but media savvy young serial killer Wayne Hudson (“Married … With Children” regular David Faustino). Elton (co-creator of PBS series “The Black Adder”) adapted his own bestselling novel, and his stagework was honored with London’s 1998 Laurence Olivier Award for best new comedy. Not all the agenda-driven dialogue rings true, but the playwright’s moralistic statement is devastatingly realized by a first-rate ensemble under the fluid, insightful direction of Jeremiah Morris.

The action, set in the upscale Beverly Hills home of Delamitri, focuses on the misadventures of the thoroughly self-involved director on the day of and the morning after his Oscar win. Just as he’s about to reap his post-victory carnal rewards with luscious centerfold Brooke Daniels (Maria Cina), Delamitri finds himself staring at a huge pistol held by diminutive but lethal Hudson, who is accompanied by his equally armed lady friend, Scout (Jill Marie Simon). The pair, who have received nationwide notoriety as “the Mall Killers,” have come up with a master plan to escape culpability for their string of 57 murders. They want Delamitri to go on nationwide TV to admit that the director’s ultra-violent films are responsible for their psychopathic killing spree.

The proceedings evolve into a kind of philosophical joust between imperious Delamitri and redneck Hudson about who’s ultimately responsible for the savagery hyped by the news media and entertainment industry. Pointing to the release of O.J. Simpson and Lorena Bobbitt in their respective cases, Hudson proclaims, “No one is to blame in this country.” Delamitri maintains that the guilt lies within a morality-deprived society that his films entertain but do not create.

The conversational interplay between the two often sounds like an exchange of pat slogans, as in Hudson’s condemnation of class structure: “Half of America is living only for the entertainment of the other half.” Yet there’s no denying the riveting power of the play’s lethal conclusion.

The production’s intense hilarity is due mainly to the brilliant performance of Faustino. His Hudson is an inherently bright, vulgar, fun-loving reactionary whose life has been totally shaped and validated by violence. It is truly amusing to watch his street-level media skills as he takes over the direction of a TV news conference. Faustino is supported immeasurably by Simon’s adroit outing as Hudson’s simple-minded but adoring lady love.

Caulfield (“The Colbys,” Comedy Central’s “Strip Mall”) is properly aloof and imperious as the filmmaker who is prepared to let people die rather than admit that his gory action flicks could influence anybody’s personality or behavior. He is particularly effective when Delamitri tricks Hudson into debating him on live TV.

The true surprise in this production is the sensual yet comical outing of Cina as the sex symbol determined to be respected as an actress. She is particularly impressive as Brooke makes art work out of her pantyhose in her efforts to convince Delamitri of her talent. Also deserving mention are Julie Cobb’s effective turn as the director’s monumentally materialistic wife and Rosemary Morgan’s believable portrayal as his sarcastic, industry brat daughter.

Designers Don Gruber (set), Jim Moody (lights), Steve Shaw (sound) and Pat Naderhoff (costumes) create a perfect upscale environment for this lethal confrontation.

Popcorn

El Portal Theater; 300 seats; $42 top

Production

El Portal Center for the Arts presents a play in two acts by Ben Elton.

Creative

Directed by Jeremiah Morris. Producer, Jim Brochu; sets, Don Gruber; lights, Jim Moody; costumes, Pat Naderhoff; sound, Steve Shaw. Opened and reviewed Sept. 8, 2000; runs until Oct. 1. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Cast

Bruce Delamitri - Maxwell Caulfield Wayne Hudson - David Faustino Karl Brezner - Vasili Bogazianos Velvet Delamitri - Rosemary Morgan Farrah Delamitri - Julie Cobb Scout - Jill Marie Simon Brooke Daniels - Maria Cina Kirsten - Chrysa Freeman Bill - Gabriel Cade
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