Saturday, May 08, 2010

Humble Boy

Must see production of ‘HUMBLE BOY’ at Dobama

What happens when you combine a well-written script, a superb cast and an excellent director? In this instance you get ‘HUMBLE BOY’ at Dobama Theatre.

From the moment you enter Dobama’s curtainless theatre, and see the Ron Newell’s beautifully designed set of flagstone, flowers English garden, and Tudor home, you know that you are in for a “so” English play.

And, English it is. ‘HUMBLE BOY’ opened in London’s Royal National Theatre and won the 2001 Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best New Play. On the surface it’s a comedy which blends astrophysics, bumblebees, and shadings of Hamlet. If this sounds like heavy material, the opposite is in fact true as there is much to laugh about.
It is a character based, rather than a plot based play. As the writer states, “All my characters have a journey. I am obsessed with character, and that's where I begin every play."

The story centers on a mother (Flora) and son (Felix) who have a love-hate relationship. The plot unfolds as Felix Humble returns to his family home after his father’s sudden death. Felix, a high strung young man who develops a stutter when around his domineering mother, discovers that she has gotten rid of all of her husband’s belongings, including the bees which he kept. He also becomes aware that his mother has been having a long term affair with and intends to marry George Pye, a man who is a complete opposite of her intellectual husband and son. Throughout the summer, the distance between Flora and Felix grows, with a final dénouement taking place at a backyard picnic in which more hidden truths are revealed.

The Hamlet-plot concept centers on Jones’ use of The “Freytag Pyramid,” a writing device in which a state of equilibrium becomes destroyed by an inciting incident that disturbs the balance. The main character confronts an issue and struggles with it. When the conflict is resolved, it sends the play off on a new direction and a state of equilibrium is restored. This is the device that Shakespeare often used in his tragedies and history plays, including ‘HAMLET.’

The play is rich in metaphor. There is a symbolic likeness of the characters to a society of bees. Flora is the Queen Bee. When she first appears with huge sunglasses she looks like a large eyed insect and throughout, she is the focus of the action. The other characters fall into drones or worker bee roles.

Dobama’s production is nearly flawless. Director Joel Hammer has paced the show with the British attitude of movements. accents and postures. He is blessed with a very talented cast.

Maryann Nagel (Flora) develops a character that is the perfect aloof and snobbish Brit whose world centers on her physical beauty, perfect flowers and obedience to her views. Nagel’s flawless portrayal is amazing considering that her mother died during the play’s technical rehearsal, and, in spite of a week of burial and mourning, she did not miss a rehearsal and doesn’t miss being the “proper” queen bee.

Andrew Cruse (Felix), complete with fat suit, develops a consistent characterization. He walks the fine line between being pathetic and appealing, with ease. His slouched posture, hair pulling and stutter all flesh out the emotions that give life to the character.

Greg Violand is correctly obnoxious as George. He is so believable, that one can only ask why Flora would be attracted to this loud mouthed uncouth lout.

Brian Zoldessy, as Jim, the “gardener”—the quote marks will be significant to those who see the show--gives just the right illusion to the characterization.

Laura Starnik is properly pathetic as Flora’s hanger-on acquaintance. Her second-act speech, when she finally accepts that she is being emotionally abused and manipulated by Flora, received scene-stopping applause from the opening night audience.

Laurel Johnson nicely portrays George’s daughter and Felix’s former lover.

All of the technical aspects of the show are well conceived.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Dobama’s ‘HUMBLE BOY’ is one of this season’s theatrical highlights. Go….go…..go….see ‘HUMBLE BOY!’