Count on Know Theatre to come up with offbeat onstage stories. Joseph Zettelmaier’s All Childish Things has the appearance of just that: A trio of guys who remain stuck in childhood despite approaching age 30. They’re immersed in “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” — the sci-fi fantasy of Star Wars that fueled their youthful dreams of a universe where hope and faith and honor held sway.
Life hasn’t turned out that way: Dave (Ben Dudley) lives in his mother’s basement surrounded by Star Wars collectibles; Max (Chris Wesselman) is a divorced dad who frets about most everything; Carter (James Creque) has an entry level job in a warehouse where Star Wars paraphernalia from days gone by are stored. Carter also has a girlfriend, Kendra (Laurie Benning Roberts), who has nothing but disdain for the boys’ obsessions.
Rather than seek mature paths to success, they have decided to do something they believe requires bravery, intelligence and a lot of spunk — a daring mission comparable to the escapades of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca. In fact, Max has mastered the hirsute Wookie’s bleating battle cry. Their plan to take control of their fates: Break into the warehouse where Carter works, steal priceless collectibles and sell them for $2 million.
Laying out their scheme consumes most of the two-hour production’s first act, and it’s a tad tedious. Dudley’s Dave is a smart nerd; Max is dubious and really wants to back out; Carter is cool, but not all that helpful. Kendra just thinks what they’re up to is stupid, but she’s playing along because she’s the connection to a mysterious individual who she claims will pay big bucks for their take.
Of course things go wrong, security foils their escapade and their effort fails in almost every way, and it’s life-threatening for Carter, who loses a lot of blood from a gunshot wound. Just when it appears that these dweebs are bound for a dramatically bad finish, however, a fifth character arrives, played by Mike Sherman. He’s the buyer, but he’s more complicated than that; it’s enough to say that he shares some of their mania, but he’s a man of means. Dave pulls off a contemporary version of Luke Skywalker’s snatching victory from the jaws of defeat and saves his friends.
In fact, the second act of All Childish Things saves the day: We learn that the guys, especially Dave and Max, have more character than we could have imagined. If Carter survives his ordeal, he has a tender side; Kendra has legitimate reasons for her dark attitudes; and there’s light at the end of the tunnel for them. Zettelmaier’s script suggests that their naïve devotion might not be so foolish after all: In fact, they distill their “childish things” in ways that might be a path to happier adult lives.
Dudley gives Dave an appropriately nerdy personality, with touches of intelligence and a dash of optimism. Wesselman, usually a boisterous presence onstage, shows some serious acting skill as a big guy who didn’t get in line when self-confidence was handed out. Creque’s portrait of Carter is more one-dimensional, but that’s in the script rather than his performance. As Kendra, Roberts takes a role that could just be a tough broad and gives her some brash but attractive qualities. The show’s most genuine moment is an honest conversation about feelings and motives between Kendra and Max.
Know Theatre positions itself these days as “Cincinnati’s alternative theatrical playground.” They traffic in zany fun, but more often than not the balance tips in the direction of non-serious “play.” Director Tamara Winters pulls this one back from the brink with a strong second act that demands its actors to dig deeper. The result is heartening, and I hope it’s a sign of more moving productions to come.
ALL CHILDISH THINGS, presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati, continues through Dec. 19.