Enjoy this Monday with Mildred!
The Jedi Handbook
The Force is strong with this play. (Oh, come on, you know I had to say it.) Originally called The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook, playwright Stephen Massicotte has renamed it to – I hope – allow a more diverse audience to appreciate the nostalgic absurdities in the work. Handbook has been produced before, in Canada in 2017, with a much more basic stage and actors not as adept with humor as the current Bloomington production, and without the deft hand of director Chad Rabinovitz, who also produced and directed the play at The Adirondack Theatre Festival last summer.
Handbook is a coming-of-age story about a boy going to a new school. Star Wars doesn’t just blow his mind when he sees it in the theater, it changes his life. The Kid makes friends in the new school and becomes less fearful in his life, but definitely not fearless. We watch him through the years as he uses the lessons learned in Star Wars as an influence on how to conduct himself in life, and also as a strong guide to play time and friendship. There is a lot of playing in this play. The reenactment of the Huge Spoilery Moment in The Empire Strikes Back was especially well done and drew belly laughs from the crowd.
I was put off at first with The Kid as narrator, because it can become onerous to listen to an actor tell the audience directly what’s going on and what the narrator is thinking. Massicotte strikes just the right balance of narrating and action, and local actor David Sheehan is perfect as The Kid. He’s frenetic but completely understandable and after a few minutes it’s easy to believe in his young boy character. It may sound counterintuitive, but I think an actor older than a college student is a better choice for The Kid.
Rabinovitz is a master of the hectic, nearly chaotic stage production. Between the light saber duels and reenactments of classic Star Wars scenes, the actors are all over the very impressive stage with few slow moments. Walking into the theater is like entering an Imperial Cruiser, and while the audience waits for act one, they can answer trivia questions on the walls’ tv monitors. I was pleased to score big by knowing what a Sarlacc is. Chad also begins this play’s announcement with yet another card trick, this time with Star Wars Playing Cards. This seems to be a recurring thing since Glitches in Reality showed last fall, with an hour and a half of close up magic.
The biggest takeaway of the night for me was realizing that, even though the first half of the play was really good, Handbook is the second play in a row I’ve seen with an even better second half. If you’ve ever seen seasoned theater goers leave in droves during the intermission, you’ll better understand how great that is. Lighting for Handbook was intimate and always spot on. As in, the spot was always in the right place, and kudos to the technician who didn’t kick my beer as he swung around the light. The Ted Jones Theater is a little tight on space. Sound production was good, with not a few Star Wars effects and musical accompaniments, and all the actors were a joy to watch.
If you get a chance to see The Jedi Handbook I highly recommend it. It’s hectic and nostalgic, and a good coming of age story in a fine production.