Elton comedy 'Popcorn' explores media-violence link

Bates College presents Ben Elton’s play Popcorn, a scathing comedy about the relationship between public media and personal responsibility, in performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 10-11 and 17-18, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 12 and 19, in Schaeffer Theatre, 305 College St.

Martin Andrucki, Dana Professor of Theater, directs this Bates theater department production. Admission is $6 for the general public and $3 for seniors and non-Bates students. For more information call 207-786-6161.

See a slideshow about Bates’ production of Popcorn.

Popcorn is intended for adult audiences only.

Elton, well-known in Britain as a comedian and writer for such television series as Blackadder, published Popcorn as a novel in 1996 and premiered his stage version two years later. It was inspired by American film directors, such as Quentin Tarantino, who are distinguished by the graphic violence in their work.

In Elton’s story, one such director is taken hostage by two serial killers who claim that the director’s movies have driven them to violence and want to pin the responsibility for their actions on him.

The piece looks at the “relationship between the media and social behavior — the extent to which images influence our lives,” says Andrucki.

“Are we autonomous moral actors, or are we just the sum of the material inputs that surround us? Are we all Pavlov’s dogs, as one of the characters in the play suggests, or are there other models for our lives?”

The cast of nine Bates actors includes Stephen Lattanzi, a sophomore from Winchester, Mass., as the film director. Playing the two serial killers are Maggie McCally, a sophomore from Westport, Conn., and Brad Oriel, a senior from Newton Centre, Mass.

Popcorn is a good play for students, Andrucki says, because “it’s about a world that our students wade through every day: the imagery and personae of pop culture, violence-laden films, Hollywood perversity, real and imaginary violence.”

“This is basically a drama of ideas disguised as an action movie,” he says. “I like the interplay between physical violence on the one hand and intellectual confrontation on the other — it’s George Bernard Shaw meets Hollywood.”

Andrucki adds that a number of scenes in the piece will be shown on video during the performances “to reinforce the media-related themes of the play.”

Described by the Web site Screenonline.org as “one of the most important figures in 1980s British comedy,” Ben Elton parlayed a standup comedy career into work as co-writer for two breakthrough BBC sitcoms, Blackadder and The Young Ones, which Screenonline calls “the closest the BBC ever came to creating a peaktime series with a genuinely punk sensibility.”

Elton also hosted the late-’80s alt-comedy series Saturday Live and Friday Night Live. Through the 1990s, he headlined a string of BBC topical comedy series, while continuing to write for other programs. He has published 10 novels including Popcorn and Inconceivable, which, as Maybe Baby, was Elton’s film-directing debut. He has also written stage musicals, including 2002′s We Will Rock You, based on the music of the band Queen.

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