Theatre — 'Humble Boy'

‘Humble Boy’ braves the elements at Derryfield

 

The first act of Yellow Taxi’s production of the British play Humble Boy was as theatrical for what was happening outside the theatre as it was for the action onstage.

About five minutes into the show, Mother Nature decided to open up the sky with a spectacular thunderstorm, which wreaked havoc with the actors as the tin roof on the Derryfield School Auditorium amplified the sound of the rain and thunder.

Because the storm drowned out the actor’s voices, it was a bit hard to follow the exposition, but the actors quickly adjusted their volume, and soon the audience was engaged. Kudos all around to the cast, who kept on going, even when the power was briefly knocked out in the auditorium.

But enough about the bad weather—we’ve seen and heard all about it in the past two weeks. The play’s the thing. Humble Boy deals with the Humble family—yes, that’s their surname—an upper middle class, intellectual lot of Brits who are reuniting under rather unfortunate circumstances: the death of the Humble patriarch, James, an etymologist and teacher with a passion for beekeeping.

First to appear on the scene is the son, Felix Humble (played by Doug Chilson), a thirty-something astrophysicist who is upset to see that his mother has already rid their garden of James’ beloved bees. “You could have waited until after the funeral,” he tells her.

Felix’s mother, Flora (Barbara Webb), is a hard, cold woman who thinks her husband, her friends, and basically her entire lot in life is beneath her. (Think Joan Collins on Dynasty, and you’re getting there.) She is idolized by their busybody neighbor, Mercy Lott (Maria Barry). What Mercy, and nearly everyone else in town except Felix, knows is that  Flora has been cavorting with George Pye (Neal Blaiklock) for years, and is now read to take the relationship public. George’s daughter, Rosie (Susan Rundbaken), had an intense but ill-fated relationship with Felix some years earlier, before he went off to Cambridge to become a scientist.

Flora’s disrespect to his dead father and visions of his father’s ghost (Larry Lickteig), along with the pressure to succeed in his quest for the unified theory of quantum physics, all seem to be too much for Felix to take, and he becomes suicidal. Enter Rosie, the girl he left behind, and she has some surprising news: shortly before he left town, Felix managed to get Rosie pregnant, and he is the father of a seven-year-old girl. As if that weren’t enough, Felix’s mother knew about the child, but never told him. The idea of having a daughter fills Felix with both hope and fear, and his thoughts of doing himself in seem to wane by story’s end.

If the plot sounds more like a Shakespearean tragedy than a comedy, think again. Written by playwright Charlotte Jones, the script is infused with snappy, sardonic dialogue and some broad sight gags that ease the dramatic tension. Just when we feel we are close to tears, something uproarious happens, like Mercy accidentally seasoning her gazpacho with the dead man’s ashes.

While all of the players did well—especially given the circumstances—the real standouts of this show were the female players. Barbara Webb, as the acid-tongued Flora, has a clear understanding of the character and her motivations. Although Webb struggled a bit with the British accent, making it more of a generic Katherine Hepburn type of dialect, her performance was good enough that it didn’t matter.

Susan Rundbaken gave an impressive performance in last month’s performance of Proof in Nashua, ad here she shows even more range as Rosie. Her movement and mannerisms are very organic onstage, and she is engaged in every scene she’s in, even when the focus isn’t on her.

Maria Barry stole the show as the highly talkative Mercy Lott. Not only was her accent perfect,  her energy elevated every scene she was in. Barry has natural comic ability, and though her role was small, it was an important foil to the stuffiness of the Humble family.

It’s unfortunate that Yellow Taxi won’t get another weekend to perform this show somewhere in the city. The audience on Friday night’s show was small, and we did get a rather unconventional delivery of the show, due to the storm, but the laughter was steady.  I continue to hold out hope that word-of-mouth will bring more bodies into the theatre to support this exceptional group.

 

—Michelle Saturley

 
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