Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Humble Boy

A mere glance at the program, which indicates that the two families involved in Charlotte Jones’ Play, “Humble Boy,” at the Delta King through June 25th, are named the Humbles and the Pyes tells the audience that it is in for a fun evening.

Though this is billed as a comedy, and though it is indeed very funny, there are times when it seemed to have an identity crisis--was it really a comedy, or was it really a drama? It has been said that it has overtones of Hamlet, and indeed it does. This story of twisted family relationships following the death of the father in the family, works as either comedy or drama, and, fortunately, under the direction of Stephanie Gularte, it works well as both.

Capital Stage managing director Peter Mohrmann is Felix Humble, the shy, somewhat rumpled, overweight Cambridge University astrophysicist who has returned to his Cotswold home following the death of his father, an entomologist and bee keeper. Being back in the family home, and at odds with his overbearing mother (who describes him as “fat and strange”), is a situation fraught with tension that brings back his annoying stutter and makes it impossible for him to deliver the eulogy at his father’s funeral.

Obviously a brilliant scientist, his stutter disappears and his self-confidence grows when he speaks of his research on “string theory” which will allow us to understand the universe, though he seems incapable of understanding his own life.

Mohrmann is simply outstanding – gawky, awkward, as he searches for the answers to the questions in a world that seems to be unraveling before him.

Janis Stevens, recently nominated for a New York Drama Desk award for her one-woman show, “Vivien”, based on the life of Vivien Leigh, plays Felix’s mother, Flora Humble. Her portrayal of the not-so-grieving widow is both icy and emotional, depending on the situation and Stevens handles both with aplomb.

Flora is “incandescent with rage” about her son’s departure from his father’s funeral and, as she speaks we learn very quickly that she wasn’t too fond of her dearly departed husband either. Immediately following his death, she got rid of his beloved bees and gave away his clothes to a local charity, without consulting Felix. She wraps her husband’s ashes up as a gift to give to the unsuspecting Felix, since she doesn’t want them and thinks he might like to have them.

Flora is having an affair with a lecherous old neighbor, George Pye (David Silberman), whom Felix hates, and who wants to marry Flora, now that she’s a widow.

The affair comes as news to Felix, though it has been going on for 10 years, he learns from George’s daughter, Rosie Pye (Kathleen Saumure), Felix’s former girlfriend and mother of the child he didn’t realize he had fathered. Rosie is a survivor and proud of having been a successful single mother, doing a good job of raising her daughter.

The delightfully fey Georgann Wallace plays Marcy Lott, a people-pleasing, scatterbrained family friend who wants to keep peace at all costs. Wallace is a wonderful comedienne who steals every scene she is in. Her touch up for the seasoning in the gazpacho she has made for a family meal will probably be the one scene that nobody will ever forget, though her monologue during grace at the same meal is an absolute show stopper, and wins applause.

Jim Lane is Jim, the mysterious Gardener, who has his own little secret and who isn’t quite what he seems. Lane gives his usual solid performance.

The set for this enjoyable show is by Stephen Jones, who has created a lush British garden, even if things spilled deliberately or accidentally onto the astroturf are somewhat difficult to clean up.

Costume design is by Rebecca Redmond, who has dressed Flora in some gorgeous costumes, including her funeral attire which, with the large dark glasses, give her the appearance of a Queen Bee, quite appropriate for this insulated little hive.

Playwright Charlotte Jones doesn’t have quite the light touch that one finds in an Alan Ayckbourn (to which she is sometimes compared), but the whole of “Humble Boy” is uniquely hers and is a thoroughly satisfactory and enjoyable piece of theatre.

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