Kernels of comedy abound in GBSC’s ‘Popcorn Falls’

Christopher Chew and Sarah Elizabeth Bedard in Greater Boston Stage Company’s “Popcorn Falls.” Photo: Nile Scott Studios

By Rich Fahey

STONEHAM – Once in a while, a show comes along that reminds us theater doesn’t have to be a huge spectacle with falling chandeliers and large casts, and 3-D special effects.

It can be as simple as two actors creating theatrical magic with their own talents and a playwright whose wit and imagination has given them the tools to create that magic.

The Greater Boston Stage Company’s prediction of James Hindman’s “Popcorn Falls” is a showcase for two very talented actors, Christopher Chew and Sarah Elizabeth Bedard. It unfolds in a breathless, manic 90 minutes while the actors perform 21 roles, switching genders whenever necessary, often performing multiple roles at the same time.

Popcorn Falls, thanks to the eponymous attraction it featured, used to be something of a tourist destination in New Hampshire but a corrupt county official named Mr. Doyle erected a dam that stopped the falls, and now is conniving to turn the entire town into a massive sewage treatment plant – with one possible out.

That is, the town must come up with a play and a theater to perform it in in exactly one week, something that would trigger a grant large enough for the town to get a second chance.

Christopher Chew and Sarah Elizabeth Bedard in “Popcorn Falls.” Photo: Nile Scott Studios

It is a near-impossible task, especially with the town’s meager resources. And, in its slide into near oblivion, it has attracted an eclectic collection of characters and lovable losers. That includes Mayor Trundle, portrayed by Chew. He is an alcoholic, divorced and disgraced,  who was fired from his last job and Popcorn Falls appears to be his last chance at reclaiming his life.

Joe, the town custodian and the mayor’s chief aide, weighted down by family responsibilities, is Bedard’s lead role but there is more. Much more, because the breadth and range of the characters they both undertake is truly mind-boggling.

Bedard will inhabit Floyd, the one-armed lumberyard owner who provides a home for the would-be actors; Becky the bartender, who will provide Mayor Trundle a new lease on life; cat lady and part-time librarian Mrs. Parker, allowing Bedard to channel her inner Katherine Hepburn; the flirtatious schoolteacher Mrs. Stepp; and the villainous Mr. Doyle.

Chew will give life to characters such as Max, the hilarious German mortician who came as a student but stayed on to open a funeral parlor. He turns out to be a wonderful make-up artist.

Both Chew and Bedard are able to endow their characters with distinct mannerisms and voices, sometimes using props, so we never lose sight of which character is speaking at the moment.

The race to stage the play on time will evolve into a Perils of Pauline finish, the townspeople heroically trying to get to the finish line while Doyle and his cronies pull out all the stops to foil them.

Director Lisa Rafferty is in charge of ensuring characters develop the split-second comic timing needed to make the piece work and work it does.

Greater Boston Stage Company is one of many theaters that have been deeply affected by both the pandemic and the post-pandemic fallout.  Covid protocols have been relaxed at the theater and attending a show now feels almost identical to attending one before the pandemic hit.

“Popcorn Falls” is charming, a light, bright bit of theatrical magic that allows you to sit back, forget your troubles, and be thoroughly entertained.

The Greater Boston Stage Company production of “Popcorn Falls.” Play by James Hindman. Directed by Lisa Rafferty. At the Greater Boston Stage Company, Stoneham, through Oct. 2.