Head to the Greenhouse Theater Center to run into some old friends. It has been a long time since I spent my mornings on the playground cruising from distress signal to distress signal in the Millennium Falcon or a Rebel Blockade Runner, since Greedo and Grand Moff Tarkin were the subjects of my daydreams, since I told off a bully at school with an Obi-Wan quote—which, to my horror, he recognized—but at Hubris Productions’s premiere of All Childish Things last Saturday, I found myself floating home.
From the moment you walk in, it’s clear that this play is a wild, unabashed tribute to Star Wars. The premise is the first sign. A Star Wars collectible aficionado, Dave (Nathan Pease), and his playground buddies Max (Nathan Petts) and Carter (Kevin D’Ambrosio) stuck in their playground imaginations and obsessed with all things Star Wars have found the ticket to everlasting happiness and financial success: break into the action figure warehouse, and steal the mother lode of Star Wars merch. But the tribute runs deeper than just that. At the opening, there was a Storm Trooper in full gear complete with electronic voice ushering people to their seats; the actors all have quotes and references to the movies in their bios; the cell phone announcement is read in the company’s best Darth Vader voice. For the full list, you’ll just have to see the play. If you know the movies—and if you don’t, well, see something else—you’ll find yourself chucking and groaning every time they slip a reference in under the radar. And for every bit that this play is a tribute to and a celebration of nerdiness, obsession, imagination, and Tatooine, I love it. I laugh at it, and I laugh at myself, and wonder at how amazing it is that theater can get you to take yourself less seriously.
But as the third play in Hubris’s season dedicated to lust, the whimsical, child-like nerd-tribute is not the only thing All Childish Things is going for, and that is its principal problem. There is an unclear and unnecessary element of violence and brutality in this show that doesn’t fit at all with the story. It happens early on, as the third one of the childhood friends enters and then shortly pulls out a handgun (as I write this I realize that perhaps it is more justified than I originally thought, as it is foreshadowed by the blaster rifle hung on the wall; my apologies). Within minutes, these twentysomethings are threatening each others’s lives with the gun—the old “if you don’t do it my way I’ll shoot you” trope that all nerdy best-friends pull on each other. I know, I know, actors trying to affect each other on an emotional level is overdone, a hokey religion, you might say, surely no match for a good handgun at your side, but honestly, that worked better on 24. The gesture is not only too violent for the tone, and takes me out of the story as an audience member, but it’s also used so many times throughout the play that any effect it might otherwise have had is diluted and lost by the time the climax rolls around. The blaster is the easy way out, because, after all, it takes years of training and a high midiclorian count to become a Jedi, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try for the real stuff on stage. Every time Luke pulls out a blaster, you know he’s not ready.
Part of the problem here is coming up with a premise that’s the dork version of The Italian Job and trying to put it on the stage instead of in a movie with a multi-million dollar budget. It’s not all bad; the production does get a lot of mileage out of having those Hollywood heist movies be the characters’s only frame of reference for how to pull the job. I got totally swept up in it when they talk about the plan, mapping out in meticulous detail who does what, with floor plans, fake IDs, and contingencies. Of course, they get it all wrong, and we don’t believe for one second that it’s going to work, but that’s why it’s fun to watch.
What makes this aspect of the play successful is how fully the actors embraced their dorkiness. The characters are completely unbelievable at times, and brutal to each other, but the actors have so much fun that I can’t help but love them.
Fitting to the name of Hubris Productions, this is a naïve piece of theater in that it doesn’t know its place. Its ambitions are misdirected toward making a statement that isn’t clear and doesn’t fit. But what it does have is heart. I find myself getting caught up in it, laughing, and remembering that it's okay to be obsessed with ewoks.
The Greenhouse Theater Center at 2257 N Lincoln Ave