By Jamie Bullins

Beatrice Community Players, Friday, October 15, 2021, 7:30 pm. 

You may think if I start off by saying “strap in, keep your hands and feet inside the car, and hang on” that you might be somewhere other than the quaint, charming community of Beatrice, NE. But I’m just offering you fair warning. This show is full throttle from start to finish. 

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Tyler J. Rinne (Mayor Trundle) and Brandon Clark (Joe) are mounting a Herculean effort here. They’re not the only ones, seeing as Jamie Ulmer (25 year Managing Artistic Director of Beatrice Community Players) directed AND designed the show. Would “labor of love” be appropriate to describe this plucky band in Beatrice? 

This was my first exposure to this particular script, similar in scope and style to shows such as Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard’s Greater Tuna and Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep, each which require two cast members to play multiple characters throughout the story. According to the Concord Theatricals website, the Popcorn Falls cast list includes a total of fifteen characters that are portrayed by this cast of two.  I am not an expert on either Tuna or Irma Vep, but based on my personal experiences with these scripts, what I did find different here with Popcorn Falls was that they usually defined each character with just one small item rather than attempting to define each character with multiple pieces of clothing or props. Just one thing, used in a clever way and supported by very well chosen and applied vocal and physical tweaks to bring them to life. Without giving too much away, a simple sweater becomes Mr. Cuddles and Ms. Lydia Parker comes to life very effectively. I will admit I was skeptical at first, whether or not a simple hat or pair of glasses would sustain the characters throughout, and whether my suspension of disbelief would be willing, one might say. BUT it’s Mr. Rinne’s and Mr. Clark’s commitment to the inhabitants of Popcorn Falls, along with a significant outsider, that carries it successfully from start to finish (and back to the start again). The evening is a showcase for what a simple hat can accomplish if on the right head with the right idea. Some of the characters have a more significant role than others and you begin to empathize with the plight of the residents of this small community. Once you are invested, you can visualize the story clearly as it unfolds, even if the location is simply written out on a chalkboard. 

Do not be fooled into thinking this play is a simple romp that teaches us nothing. With our current culture and place in history, laughter is, without question, the best medicine. Man, do we need to laugh now, the louder and more boisterous the better, and a few guffaws can go a long way. But this is also a story about the power of hope, and theatre too, actually. I personally have seen the power of theatre to bring a community together: back in Georgia I saw a community saved by theatre. This particular county seat was a dying old peanut town, and a community performance group came in and helped them tell their stories. Now the arts in the entire county is supported by this organization, founded on the back of this theatre company. And what can we say about the power of hope? Not enough. With a little hope and determination anything can happen. Anything. Again, now is absolutely the time for us to remember that. With hope, we will get through any and all challenges we face. So, while you’re watching Mr. Rinne and Mr. Clark sweat and run about that stage, laughing your ass off, that kernel of hope will sneak in. Take that home with you. Thank you, Beatrice Community Players; keep telling your stories.

If you go: You can catch Popcorn Falls October 16-17, 22-24, Fridays/Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm. Tickets may be purchased online.  

Jamie Bullins is on the faculty in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film at UNL, since the fall of 2017. He is an Educator, Scenographer, Director, and Playwright and has been at it for almost 30 years now. 

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