Crackling Popcorn a violent, wicked satire
Express Writer

EDMONTON -- There are a lot of laughs in Ben Elton's Popcorn.

After all, Elton is one of England's top comedy writers.

But, in Bob Baker's unsettling production, ideas and laughter collide to explode with the force of a bullet from a Saturday Night Special.

Bruce Delamitri (Jeff Paige) is a very thinly disguised portrait of Oliver Tarantino. Or is it Quentin Stone? At any rate, Delamitri specializes in violent and stylish films in which cool killers dispatch victims with cinematic flourish to throbbing rock and roll. He wins the Academy Award and returns home with Playboy Centrefold Brook Daniels (Jan Alexandra Smith) for a night of sex and celebration. But unknown to the director, a psychotic duo, Wayne (Steve Pirot) and Scout (Tara Hughes) dubbed by the press as the "Mall Murderers," have taken over his fancy digs.

A terrible siege begins. His crass, plain talking producer (John Wright) shows up only to become the first victim of the gun happy couple. The centrefold is next when she attempts to use her own gun to escape. Some time later, his estranged wife Farrah (Christine MacInnis) shows up with their teenage daughter Velvet (Jessica Earle).

She's looking for a divorce settlement but walks into hell.

Wayne may be white trash but he's sufficiently media-savvy to realize if he can appear to be the wounded one - if he can force Delamitri to admit that his films inspire people to commit crimes - then at least he can escape the electric chair.

A ferocious debate, intense, brilliant and thoughtful, ensues while the whole country watches on television. (In fact, your humble reviewer turns up on television in a short-but telling cameo as one of the press vultures covering the event in hopes of squeezing a few rating points out of a jaded TV audience.) Says Delamitri, echoing comments by Oliver Stone, "The artist don't create society - they reflect it." Wayne parries, "You make killing cool." "No, Wayne," he shoots back. "I make going to the movies cool."

Bob Baker's production has it all - special effects, sex, drugs and rock and roll.

His ensemble is as smooth as the inner workings of an Uzi. Smith pulls off a spectacular tour de force as she expires in an ever-widening pool of blood. It takes her about 20 minutes and she's so good at it, it's difficult to keep up with the rest of the play.

Hughes wildly vacillates between vulnerable and deadly while avoiding the stereotype that lurks in the role. Pirot's white trash killer ("The only memorable thing I ever did was kill people") is one scary dude. Completely amoral, liable to explode at any second, possessing the cunning of a trapped animal, the loose-limbed Pirot shambles around the stage in control of everything around him.

We have seen Jeff Paige mostly in his one-man shows at the Fringe.
He has always been an intense actor but we have seen nothing to prepare us for his galvanic performance here. Focused and concentrated, he begins loud and bombastically but, as the terrible events unfold around him, he pulls back to reveal the desperate person underneath. He must debate a madman for the lives of a room full of people, often spitting out his words as if they taste foul.

Baker takes full advantage of the small space in the Rice Theatre to make us part of the growing horror. He paces the evening masterfully, measuring out the dramatic arc of the play.

This violent theatrical experience is probably not for everyone. But for those who emotionally and dramatically buy into this work, the rewards are great.