Joseph Zettelmaier’s All Childish Things recently opened at the Know Theatre’s Main Stage, and you can tell from the moment you walk in that the Know staff are having fun with this show. Signage is printed in a careful Star Wars-inspired hand. Specialty drinks are on offer, such as the “Red Saber”: Mountain Dew Code Red, plus vodka and triple sec. Geeky tunes are pumping, such as Weird Al’s “Yoda” and Hot Waffles’ “George Lucas Raped My Childhood.” (Now would be an appropriate time to mention that this show is not altogether child-friendly, mostly for language and some violence/gun themes.)
Immediately upon entering the stage area, the setting is a familiar one for geeks like myself, from the obligatory futon to the dual-monitor PC. From top to bottom, the room is decorated in Star Wars memorabilia, with no opportunity wasted, including Wookiee-like bean bag chairs and tauntaun figurines mounting other tauntaun figurines. Personally I’ve never known a Star Wars geek who didn’t also have a Doctor Who TARDIS cookie jar or some manga lined up on the book shelf, but let me be clear: this room is all Star Wars, all the time. Mountain Dew becomes a decor of its own, showing up in cases under the bed, loose cans in the mini-fridge, and empties stacked in pyramids on the desk. The narrow, frosted windows make it clear we’re in a basement (if there could be any doubt), and so before the lights even come up on All Childish Things, the audience has a clear idea of the characters they’ll encounter.
The only element that does not feel familiar is the mysterious cabinet taking up a quarter of the room. The cabinet, we find out, houses protagonist Dave Bulanski’s (Ben Dudley) most precious Star Wars figurines. When we meet him, Dave’s only drive seems to be amassing more of the toys—sorry, collectables. In fact, Dave and three of his best friends (or, more accurately, two friends and one Yoko Ono-style girlfriend) are about to embark on a massive heist of the secret Kenner warehouse in Norwood, Ohio.
However, the play is less about the heist itself as it is about the relationships between the four characters. The friends are in a stage of life that many 30-year-olds will recognize: you’ve been friends for decades but you’ve begun to drift apart. Carter (James Creque), once a lady’s man, is starting to get serious about his girlfriend Kendra (Laurie Benning Roberts). Kendra, on the other hand, is “not the marrying type” and cannot conquer her flight-or-fight response in a mature way. Dave’s best friend Max (Chris Wesselman) has a daughter of his own and needs to become more of a parent, less of a child. And Dave, with his mystery cabinet of mint condition toys, perhaps needs the biggest boot out of the nest.
Though each begins in his or her own state of arrested development, and each relationship is still being protected in the same plastic box it has been kept in for 20 years, over the course of All Childish Things we see growth from each of the characters. Sometimes it takes jarring, near-death experiences to shake our heroes by the shoulders, but slowly it does happen. The characters are in good hands, especially Laurie Benning Roberts’ Kendra—I have a soft spot for a female character who struggles to be one of the guys, and Roberts’ willful and bold Kendra was a win. Chris Wesselman and Ben Dudley are completely believable as lifelong friends; if those two don’t continue sharing Dews and Hostess Ding Dongs off-set, I’d be surprised.
Though attendance was sparse on Saturday, it was clear that the fanboy themes had attracted many new patrons to the Know Theatre. Those looking for references to nerf herders and wampas will leave satisfied. But if you aren’t fluent in Lucas, don’t let that scare you off: this show is more about people, relationships, change—and growing a pair.