Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Boys Own Jedi Handbook

[I'm reprinting some reviews that have since vanished.]

"The Boys Own Jedi Handbook" by Alberta playwright, Stephen Massicotte, is a delightful one-act play. The play was first produced in 1997 when it played to sold out audiences and held over houses in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Victoria and Vancouver; but if you don't happen to live in one of those cities, or didn't happen to catch it then, it just might be worth dropping an email to your local theatre director or little theater group to suggest they mount it. It is funny and warm and perhaps a little bit profound, and a must-see for every SF fan.

I was lucky enough to see the Next Step Theatre presentation January, 2008, starring Jeremy Mason (who was born to play this role) as the Kid, well supported by Neil James as his side-kick James, and Kathy Zaborsky as Ms. Karpowich, his Grade 4 teacher. The story moves seamlessly between the nostalgia of the adult narrator recalling the first time he saw Star Wars (1977) and analyzing its impact on his life from the perspective of twenty years on, and the hilarious reenactment of his year in Grade 4 as seen through the eyes of a 10 year old. Indeed, my favorite scene is when the adult finishes his very sophisticated introduction to what made the original Star Wars movie so special, and says, "Of course, that's not quite how I would have phrased it back then," and the scene shifts to the Kid and his buddy trying to explain the movie to his mom. My 9-year-old daughter literally fell out of her seat laughing as the boys turned their mom's vacuum into R2D2 and completely failed to convey the magnificence of the movie to their harassed mother. (Hearing the entire movie breathlessly retold from start to finish in six minutes is worth the price of admission alone.)

As a long-time fan, I loved all the Star Wars references, and was only slightly embarrassed to realize that I could still recite key dialog along with the boys in the play.

But underneath all the slapstick physical humor and the nostalgic reenactments of scenes from the original movie -- playfully transformed as our Grade 4 heroes recast themselves as rebel pilots, their teacher as Grand Moff Tarkin, and intercepted notes as the secret plans to the death star -- is another layer of thoughtful 'coming of age' theatre. Even those for whom Star Wars was just another movie will find something universal to relate to in the depiction of the enthusiasms and fears of Grade 4 boys.

Massicotte brilliantly contrasts kids' reaction to Star Wars with the equally familiar (if perhaps less life-changing) classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Through the Grade 4 students production of this school play, they come to understand the true meaning of The Force, and we come to appreciate the true meaning of growing up. Its pretty good stuff!

So. You need to see this play, and unlike dropping into your local bookstore to grab a book, you are going to have to sell your local theatre on producing it for you. Luckily, the play has several things going for it. First, it's a one-act play; second it only requires 3 actors; and third it uses only minimal sets/props, so it is relatively easy to mount. Furthermore, it's the first in a trilogy (the logical consequence of it's subject matter), the sequels being The Girls Strike Back (2002) and The Return of the Jedi Handbook, so if your local theater doesn't happen to be into one-act plays, it could mount all three as an integrated evening. Or, if it does do one act plays, they could pair it with another suitable production; I saw it with I, Claudia (a similarly comic coming of age drama, but of a 12 year old girl dealing with her parents' divorce). You could then point out that they will be able to build on the inevitable success of this first production to do the two sequels in subsequent seasons. Point out that just as Dr. Who proved a steady money-maker for PBS, The Boys Own Jedi Handbook is a sure thing for live theatre.

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