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A force more powerful than geeks & nerds

By |2018-01-16T13:31:08-05:00October 30th, 2008|Entertainment|

It’s no secret that local playwright Joseph Zettelmaier is one of the industry’s rising young stars. An adjunct lecturer at Eastern Michigan University and prolific author, two of Zettelmaier’s efforts have already been nominated for the prestigious American Theatre Critics/Steinberg New Play Award, and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of several new works he has in the pipeline finally captures the prize. Why that’s inevitable is easy to explain: He writes about real people struggling with real and identifiable issues, and he captures their spirit more fully than many of his youthful peers. Plus, he’s not afraid to tackle new subjects or experiment with different genres; every new work reveals growth and maturity as a playwright.
But revisiting old friends can also be a fun and worthwhile experience, and that’s just what happened Oct. 24 when his first nominated play, “All Childish Things,” opened its second-ever professional production at Lansing’s BoarsHead Theater.
Set entirely in a basement where geeky “Star Wars” collector Dave Bullanski (Jason Richards) dwells, “All Childish Things” examines the limits and power of friendships – especially when cherished, lifelong relationships are unexpectedly strained to the breaking point.
Dave and his buddies of 24 years, Max (Aral Gribble) and Carter (Brian D. Thibault), have accomplished little with their lives except eat, breathe and collect everything to do with their favorite sci-fi fantasy film series. It’s a nerdy, all-boys club to be sure, one in which Carter’s girlfriend, Kendra (Molly Thomas), doesn’t belong. (She elicits nothing but scorn and condescension from his nerdy buddies, which she gladly returns with equal fury.) Yet the four embark on a bold plan to break into a nearby Kenner Toys warehouse and wipe it clean of its priceless collectibles, for which an anonymous buyer (Keith Allan Kalinowski) is willing to pay $2 million. Their best laid plans go seriously off-track, however, and damaging secrets are revealed. Will the trio – like their idols Luke, Han and Chewbacca – survive their ordeal? Or will the dark side win?
Or – from this cranky critic’s perspective – how does this production compare to the world premiere at Hamtramck’s Planet Ant Theatre in June 2006 that earned two Wilde Awards nominations?
Normally, to be fair to Zettelmaier and the BoarsHead team, I’d assign another critic to review the production, so that an unbiased, second pair of eyes could examine the work. But I was curious to see how a different director and a new cast would interpret the script, and whether or not a much larger facility would impact its intimacy.
Of course, the BoarsHead production IS different – as one should expect. But it’s also slicker and tighter, thanks to director Joey Albright’s zippy staging and the thoroughly engaging performances of his five actors.
With a script packed with nerds and geek-speak, it would be easy to stage a shallow production filled with nothing but stereotypes. Instead, Albright and the actors respect the characters and dig deep to reveal universal truths about the ties that bind people together.
Ultimately, that’s what draws the audience into the story: These are real people struggling with real problems, and we can identify with them – even if we can’t comprehend their lifelong obsession with a movie. (Nor with planning and committing a major crime, but that’s simply the vehicle that propels the more-important issues Zettelmaier is addressing.)
That’s especially true of Dave. Stuck in his mother’s basement teeming with Star Wars paraphernalia, the computer whiz finally has a chance to make something of himself – albeit illegally. So when the robbery falls apart and he’s faced with a choice that could jeopardize his relationship with Carter, Richards expertly shows us Dave’s meltdown. And when Dave takes charge of a seriously deteriorating situation, his redemption is equally well played.
Thomas, as the despised wedge in the guys’ relationship, perfectly straddles the fine line between bitchiness for the sake of bitchiness and being exasperated over the whole situation. (One can certainly understand her point!)
As the handsome, but duplicitous Carter, Thibault has many fine moments – especially when bloodied and fading in and out of consciousness on the basement floor.
And Kalinowski nicely blends the two sides of the most feared man in Ohio – who also happens to be a diehard “Star Wars” freak.
But in a team of near equals, it’s Aral Gribble who stands out as Max. A divorced father of a four-year-old girl, Max is queasy about the planned robbery, and rightfully so. Watch Gribble’s face, voice and body, and you’ll observe a true craftsman at work. Max’s return to the basement after the plan falls apart is priceless, as is Gribbles entire performance.
Dan Walker’s set perfectly captures the look and feel of a basement bedroom – from the high window outside to the stairway upstairs to the washer and dryer tucked in the corner.

REVIEW:
‘All Childish Things’
BoarsHead Theater, 425 S. Grand Ave., Lansing. Wednesday-Sunday through Nov. 9. Tickets: $12-$30. For information: 517-484-7805 or http://www.boarshead.org.

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