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Q&A: ‘The Jedi Handbook’ isn’t ‘Star Wars’ on stage, it’s a stroll through childhood



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Josh Carroll and David Sheehan rehearse March 25 at the Bloomington Playwrights Project. “The Jedi Handbook” will premiere at 7:30 p.m. March 29. Colin Kulpa Buy Photos

The IDS sat down with Chad Rabinovitz, director and producing artistic director of Bloomington Playwrights Project’s “The Jedi Handbook,” to talk about the production. The play was written by Stephen Massicotte. Rabinovitz has been directing new plays at the Bloomington Playwrights Project since 2013.

“The Jedi Handbook” runs March 29 to April 13 at the Bloomington Playwrights Project.

Responses have been shortened for brevity and clarity.

Chad Rabinovitz, director of “The Jedi Handbook,” stands inside the Bloomington Playwrights Project on March 25. The play will premiere at 7:30 p.m. March 29 at the BPP. Colin Kulpa Buy Photos

IDS: Tell me a little about the premise of this production.

Rabinovitz: It’s a coming of age story about a boy who grows up with the original “Star Wars” films and checks in on his life as they’re released. It’s not “Star Wars on Stage,” but it’s “Star Wars” through the eyes of this kid who moves to a new town and has to make new friends in elementary school, as the first movie is released. With a little help from the Force, he learns to acclimate to his new home. He meets his best friend, James, along the way. The two find that reenacting “Star Wars” and their imagination playtime is what brings them together.

I’m interested in how “Star Wars” functions in this show, other than being a thing through which these characters interact with each other.

It influences the overall tone, but the script itself parallels the movies. When the kid is nervous, all of a sudden, he’s very much like Yoda. His voice starts to feel that way, because he doesn’t know what to say around girls. At the end of act one, they’re reenacting the entire X-Wing battle.

At the end of act two, they’re having the giant lightsaber battle in the second film. There are full-on lightsaber battles, there is a full-on Death Star blowing up stuff. It’s all in there. If you are a “Star Wars” fan, you’ll probably notice hundreds of references in there.

My first reaction is that this is going to pay a lot of lip service to “Star Wars” fans. What about the characters situations make it more than that?

You’ll catch so many things if you know “Star Wars.” But if you’ve never seen it, it doesn’t matter. It stands on its own. You should know who Darth Vader is and who Yoda is and Luke Skywalker. For example, we were just rehearsing a moment where the teacher comes into the class and catches him passing a note. We see that same scene through the eyes of “Star Wars.”

The teacher comes in. Her ruler has turned into a yardstick. She’s got this long cape that’s not a cape, but her sweater has gotten longer, and we hear the [Darth Vader deep inhale], and she slowly comes on, and now she’s just evil.

Few plays bring you back to your childhood. What was it like to have your first kiss? What was it like to make friends and figure out who's sitting next to you in class, and who you like? It’s so nostalgic in this way. It’s childhood.

It seems there is a lot of youthful whimsy or charisma to it, imagining a teacher as Darth Vader. Is that a big part of how characters use “Star Wars” in the show?

One-hundred percent of it. You’ll see we have a giant Millennium Falcon prop that’s completely made out of cardboard. When they are X-Wings, they’re literally in rolling chairs, playing around. Lightsabers, we’re not using lightsabers. We have flashlights, and we fill the stage with haze, so you’ll see a beam of light.

We make this playtime into this Broadway production world. We start with the tools they have in reality, and our technology allows it to show what was in their heads. They’re out playing in the snow, playing “Star Wars,” and all of a sudden, the world, the sound, the lights come. But they’re still just using chairs.

What should an audience member attending this event look forward to?

It’s the perfect night of entertainment. It’s a hard thing not to enjoy.

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