Christian Borle Takes On Directing With the Two-Hander Popcorn Falls

Borle stages James Hindman’s farce at the Davenport Theatre.

Audiences know and love Christian Borle from his wide-ranging performances behind the footlights. Whether Black Stache or Marvin, Emmett Forrest or Not Dead Fred, Borle has proved time and time again that he knows his way around a stage.

Now, Borle is expanding his résumé to include director. He's at the helm of Popcorn Falls, a farce by James Hindman running at the Davenport Theatre through November 25. Hindman passed Borle an early version of the two-character play when they were both in Mary Poppins nearly a decade ago, and they've been honing it ever since.

While directing hasn't really changed Borle's love of acting, it is something he'd like to do more of. But next time, he says, there will be more performers involved.

Christian Borle is the director of Popcorn Falls.
Christian Borle is the director of Popcorn Falls.
(© David Gordon)

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What do you love about Popcorn Falls?
My favorite thing about the show is that it wears the clothes of a very specific type of two-hand farce that we're all used to seeing, but it surprises you by landing in a different space than you expect. It's funny and daffy, but at the heart of it, it's earnest and romantic.

You've worked with a lot of directors who have very impressive résumés. What have you learned from them and how did that impact this experience?
I've stolen from all of them. Roger Rees's big advice to me as an actor, which I've never forgotten, is that you can't chase every mouse. As actors, we get hungry for every bit that's sitting there waiting for us, but if you don't reach for every single thing, the audience will see that you're not asking for too much and will reward you with their attention and faith. Mike Nichols would always say that there is something particular that you do, a little turn and squeak after a line that always delights the audience, cut it, and you'll see that it probably works better. It's a lot of that, and trying to steer [actors] Tom Souhrada and Adam Heller to the truth of the zaniness.

And I stole this from James Lapine. We'd start every rehearsal day sitting around in a circle, just talking about our evenings. Some might say that's procrastination. But I'd say it's team-building. [laughs]

What did you discover to be your favorite part of the directing process?
The joy of it. I loved being in the rehearsal room, I loved all the emailing of different departments. My palms sweated less as a director. I never got that performance anxiety that we all get. But I slept less. I was always thinking about everything, and if I had an idea, I could effect change the next day.

For example, there was a montage in the show that we've since cut, set in a convenience store. Jeff Croiter, the lighting designer, said, "What color do you want the convenience store to look like?" And I was like, "Put it in The Matrix!" Fifteen minutes later, we had this awful green florescent glow in the corner.

In terms of your acting career, do you have roles that you want to play, or do you take parts as they come?
It's hard to navigate, since all the roles that are coming along have been stamped by somebody else. Everything now is based on a brand, and whether or not you want to step into fill-in-the-blank. So it's more about what I don't want to pursue at this point.

Someone asked me if I based Marvin on anyone. It was one of the first times of my career that I didn't. To go right to Willy Wonka after that was like whiplash. But it seemed like an OK time to take a swing at such an iconic part, because it was more about the books than the movie to me.

Do you want to do more directing?
I'd love to do more of it. I'd love to see what it's like to direct more than two people at a time. This had such a steep learning curve. Whatever it may be…probably a musical, just to see what it's like being a traffic cop for a group, rather than two.

Adam Heller and Tom Souhrada in Popcorn Falls.
Adam Heller and Tom Souhrada in Popcorn Falls.
(© Monique Carboni)