TRP’s Humble Boy tips its hat at Hamlet and hums with nice energy
Also see Elizabeth's review of Fucking A
Into an idyllic garden scene wanders Felix Humble (Garry Geiken,) a youngish man, a bit overweight and dressed in white cricket flannels. He’s moody, as Hamlet is moody, indecisive and given to thoughts of suicide. His father has just died, and his mother is already carrying on with a lusty lover who is a goat in comparison to his bee-keeping father. And she intends to marry this man in unseemly haste. Sound familiar? Maybe, but Charlotte Jones’ play is no tragedy. It’s an elegant comedy that beguiles and amuses in that delicious English comic mix of eccentric characters, situational comedy and cultured wit. Theatre in the Round Players’ (TRP) production, with its rose-laden set, strong acting and good English accents, finds and tickles the audience’s funny bone.
Humble Boy establishes its English flavor in Michael Hoover’s lovely set of a Cotswold stone patio, surrounded by a romp of hybrid tea roses and hydrangeas. A French window (in fact, double garden doors) opens onto this sunny spot in the heat wave of Hoover’s light design. Director Lynn Musgrave’s sound-scape of bird song and an occasional car sighing past further conjures the world of a quiet English village.
Felix’s vain mother Flora, played with testicle-shrinking chilliness by Maggie Bearmon Pistner, is so poisonous to her sensitive 35 year-old, theoretical astrophysicist son that he stutters in her presence. "I am incandescent with rage," she announces in the opening scene, and I felt her ice. Flora has had her late husband’s bees removed and his clothes taken to a charity for Rumanian orphans. She’s done with him. She lacerates all those around her: Mercy Lott, her "negligible" friend; George Pye, her loutish lover; and Rosie Pye, with whom Felix had been in love seven years before.
Geiken’s Felix is the opposite of his well-preserved mother. He’s a rumpled, seedy-looking young man, brilliant but socially inept, and he missed his father’s funeral. Geiken manages the role of Felix well. He speaks with passion about string theory that, once it’s cracked, will unify our understanding of the universe, black holes that have the power to crush lesser things (think his mother) and Newton’s apple. When aroused to indignation, he has a tongue as sharp as his mother’s.
Among a strong cast, Linda Sue Anderson steals scenes as lumpy-but-genial Mercy. Anderson invests Mercy with a wonderfully calibrated, maladroit earnestness. The scene in which she flavors the gazpacho from the honey jar containing father Humble’s ashes is pure, side-tickling delight.
Stuart Goetz-Smith plays George Pye, Flora’s upwardly mobile lover, and captures his coarseness. As his daughter Rosie, attractive Beth Chaplin is all good sense and wry wit. Ed Jones plays Jim, the well-spoken and learned gardener, who turns out to be rather more than he seems.
Cast and director seem to have had a wonderful time creating and playing Humble Boy, but I have two minor beefs with the production. When the sympathetic gardener comes looking for slugs with a flashlight and finds Felix (smile), it felt consciously theatrical and out of character for him to hold the beam on Felix’s eyes. Also, accent defines class in Britain, and these characters speak with the same refined, BBC accent. I longed for coarse George Pye’s accent to hint at his lower middle-class roots.
Jones layers her gleaming script with metaphor that adds polish to its heady mix of wit braininess and sheer romp, but I felt as though she struggled to close the cleverness she had wrought. The end might trail on a bit, but TRP’s Humble Boy is a delightful evening out.
Humble Boy October 15 – November 7, 2004. Wednesdays- Fridays and Saturdays 8:00, Sundays 2:00 p.m. & 7:00 p.m. $20. Theatre-in-the–Round Players, 245, Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis. Tickets: 612-333-3010. www.theatreintheround.org.