Theater review: First Folio's 'Star Wars'-inspired heist comedy examines friendship, obsession
"All Childish Things" - ★ ★ ★
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."
Heeding the Apostle Paul's advice to the Corinthians would have saved the would-be master criminals in Joseph Zettelmaier's heist comedy "All Childish Things" a lot of trouble. And for at least one of them, a lot of pain. But that would have denied First Folio Theatre patrons the pleasure of Zettelmaier's pleasantly benign "Star Wars"-inspired comedy.
Directed by First Folio artistic associate Melanie Keller, "All Childish Things" is essentially an homage to friendship -- and its sometimes strained but ultimately unbreakable bonds -- masquerading as a caper farce.
The action centers on three 30-something men whose "Star Wars" obsession was cemented in 1977 with the release of "A New Hope." It was the same time their friendship was forged in the crucible of a grade school playground, where kids fascinated with science fiction fantasy typically found themselves the targets of bullies.
Fast forward to 2006. While their friendship, like their obsession, remains intact, their lives are decidedly less than heroic. Each works a dead-end job. Only one has a girlfriend, and she's rather peevish and doesn't share their long-held passion. Instead, she criticizes the "Star Wars" films for what she calls "empty heroism" and yanks the superfans' chains by confusing "Star Trek" with "Star Wars." (Actress Stephanie Shum's delivery suggests the mistake is intentional.)
Desperate to change their personal and professional narratives, the friends plot to steal rare "Star Wars" collectibles produced by onetime Cincinnati, Ohio, toy manufacturer Kenner Products.
The brains of the operation is Dave (Eric Eilersen), an information technology specialist and "Star Wars" connoisseur who hangs out in the finished basement of the Cincinnati home he shares with his mother (who is unseen but definitely heard). Dave devises a plan to infiltrate the warehouse -- where pal and aspiring rocker Carter (Alberto Mendoza) works as a stock boy. There, they'll snatch the "Star Wars" loot and sell the items to a collector who doesn't care how they were obtained.
Financially strapped single-dad Max (Bobby Richards) provides transportation. Carter's girlfriend Kendra (Shum), an aspiring filmmaker who works at the local multiplex, supplies a buyer she claims will pay $2 million for the items. He turns out to be a local crime boss known as The Big Man, zestfully played by Joe Foust who makes chowing down on Chinese noodles menacing. But for these disappointed people, the heist isn't just about the money. It's the chance to jump-start their lives.
"All we need is the courage to take the risk … Let's change our lives," exhorts Mendoza's Carter in a comical yet endearing speech rallying his co-conspirators that recalls Kurt Russell's U.S. Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks rallying his players in 2004's "Miracle."
The tone of First Folio's production is problematic. There's a shrillness to some of the performances that is a bit off-putting. The first act in particular could use a more subtle touch. Too often it feels as if these characters are yelling at each other.
That said, "All Childish Things" is steeped in "Star Wars" mythology (which Zettelmaier has clearly mastered as evidenced by his droll prologue mimicking "A New Hope's" opening crawl). Thus, it will resonate with aficionados without putting off casual fans who lack encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise.
A sweet play that respects its characters and their pursuits, "All Childish Things" is written with insight, affection and respect.
"People like us are a rare breed," says Foust's mobster, "we know who we are. We're fans."
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Location: First Folio Theatre, Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook, (630) 986-8067 or firstfolio.org
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday; 3 p.m. Thursday and Sunday; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, through Feb. 24
Running time: About two hours, including intermission
Parking: Free parking available on the estate grounds
Rating: For high school and older, includes mature language and subject matter