Top-notch cast makes 'Humble Boy' a hive of attention
Published October 2007
By Carol Davis
By Charlotte Jones
Directed by Kristanne Kurner
New Village Arts Theatre
2787B State Street
Through Nov. 11
With tones of Shakespeare lurking in the background ("Hamlet," to be specific), along with a gardener (Tom Deak) who comes and goes at the most curious moments, (think "Sixth Sense") chaos and black hole theories being thrown around, garden chases and arses being pinched by too-old-for-that-stuff adults, an illegitimate child revelation and a nutcake friend, stuff is bound to happen. And it does in the New Village Arts Theatre's West Coast premiere production of Charlotte Jones' "Humble Boy."
Upon walking in to the theater of the New Village Arts performance space in Carlsbad (this is the first production of their new season), the first thing you see is a beautiful country garden (Francis Gercke with Jerry Sonnenberg's perfect shades of lighting) laden with flowers, grass, a swing, table and chairs and lovely stone paths. Sitting down and looking straight ahead, the second thing yours truly saw was a large phallic looking symbol (a lit-up beehive, I figured out later) plopped inside the border of more flowerbeds. Off to the side, a larger-than-life papier-mâché bee was sucking nectar from a flower. Oh! These symbols. What to make of then? Is there some secret lurking out there, or just a story to be told? Well, a little of both.
When Felix Humble (Daren Scott) comes home for his father's funeral, he finds a few things that are disturbing him. For one, his overpowering, under-nurturing and selfish mother, Flora (Rosina Reynolds) is playing cat and mouse with George Pye (Jim Chovick), an old friend and neighbor. In fact, cat and mouse is putting it mildly. They are planning on getting married. Furthermore, they have been having an affair for over six years. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on who you are, her husband, Felix's father, who was a biology teacher, entomologist and beekeeper (and what we learn later was allergic to them), died suddenly of a bee sting. Now the two are romping around her back yard like teenagers run amuck, getting ready for a feast on the day of the funeral. As of yet, no one knows they are planning to announce their future wedding plans. Can you imagine Humble/Pye?
Felix, who stutters every time he's near his mother, can't seem to put two sentences together when he's in her company. She, in turn, has no problem chewing him up one side and down the other. No dummy he, Felix, who lectures at Cambridge University and is studying astrophysics and the super string theory (which upon probing I learned is the theory of everything and would embrace both Einstein's Theory of Relativity and quantum physics. (Think "Arcadia"). Somehow, though, he can't shake off his childhood dysfunctional relationship with his mother.
That said, he bombs when it comes time to deliver his father's eulogy. More bad news for Felix comes in a visit from Rosie Pye (Jessica John), George's daughter and Felix's love interest whom he up and left some time ago. She tells him that she has a young daughter at home whose name is Felicity. You figure it out. Anyway, George can't stand Felix; the feeling is mutual, and Flora looks at Rosie with disdain. The two, Rosie and Felix, are still good friends and even tried to be lovers again but no can do. Rounding out this terrific cast, Dana Case is Mercy, Flora's ditsy friend who practically wipes up after her.
The strong cast is what helps make sense of Jones' "Humble Boy." Scott's Felix is as troubling as he is sympathetic. The death of his father throws him over the top and while he tries to figure out why his father, who was so young and healthy, died, and how his mother can take up with George, who is so obnoxious, he also has to face the fact that his mother has been carrying on a relationship with George right under his father's nose. When his mother gives him his father's ashes in a decorative jar, he carries them around like a child carrying his favorite stuffed animal. And when we first meet him, he's in some outlandish outfit that is either trying to make a point or he just doesn't get it. Me thinks it's the first.
Never quite understanding her son, Reynolds' Flora is both sadistically funny and dead on sharp as a tack. Reynolds, who is statuesque by nature, carries herself like she is the CEO of a corporation dressed in stunning but high-powered suits. Her biggest complaint is that she can't seem to smell the flowers. Most who know her blame that on her new nose job, although she denies it. Her matter-of-fact attitude about her up coming wedding is enough to make any one crawl, just thinking of the combination. Talk about a role made for someone, this is the one for Reynolds. She shines.
While bittersweet, the play also has its funny moments. Chovick shows us a new side of himself as the repugnant owner of a fleet of buses. He dances around listening to jazz on his iPod, oblivious to the world around him, making off-the-wall and offensive remarks to Flora. He can't seem to get enough of her, and if it means slapping her on the rear every now and then, well, more power to him. The one person he feels compassion for is his daughter, Rosie. John once again shows us her sensitive side in dealing with Felix, for whom she still has compassion. When the two are together, he loses his self-consciousness.
The play really hits its funny notes with Case's Mercy, who is in charge of the dinner. While tasting and seasoning her popular and sought-after soup, she taps a little salt, pepper and a spice she finds sitting on the table in a decorative jar. We all know they are the ashes of the dearly departed. She doesn't. We collectively sit and wait with bated breath for her to say grace (another hysterical moment, although you'll have to find out why for yourselves) to see how that all goes down. Director Kristanne Kurner got it right with Case, who also gives an outstanding, if brief, portrayal of a lost soul.
And those clues? Well, for those who couldn't figure out the giant bee, the larger than life beehive and the gardener wandering through the gardens that only Felix could see, it all comes together in the end and the mysteries are revealed, the players return to their rightful places and the audience goes home happy, but teary eyed.
See you at the theater.