There are so many examples of dysfunctional relationships in the current South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Humble Boy” that it almost takes more than the two and a half hour running time (including intermission) to figure them out. The drama (which also offers a generous supply of laughs throughout) by Charlotte Jones premiered in England in 2001 and received the London Critics Award as Best New Play. It opened Friday evening in the studio theatre.
“Humble Boy” certainly offers salutes to Britain’s favorite playwrights from Shakespeare to Tom Stoppard and Alan Ayckbourn. To create the new-but-old characters, director Kevin Dreyer has assembled some of the top actors in SBCT’s roster — Deborah Girasek-Chuczinski, David Chudzinski and Mary Ann Moran. Completing the cast are Roy Bronkema, Jenny Dolph and Scot Shepley. In the title role of Felix Humble, Shepley carries much of the narrative in a daunting assignment which demands portraying a character who is a theoretical astrophysicist with mother issues, a lack of social graces, a weight problem and a frequent stutter. Arriving home from Cambridge for the funeral of his father, he runs away at his time to deliver a eulogy and discovers that his mother has gotten rid of all his father’s belongings, including his hive of bees, and is preparing to marry George Pye (Chudzinski), a crude alcoholic who is the opposite of Felix’ father, who points out that the union would make them the “Humble Pyes.” Felix’ icily unemotional mother Flora (Girasek-Chudzinski) has little sympathy for her obviously challenged son, preferring instead to have everyone revolve around her. She definitely is the queen bee of this particular hive a la the 1955 Joan Crawford film.
Buzzing — or fluttering — around the Humble family paramater is Mercy Lott (Moran), an eager-to-please single woman who serves Flora with almost slavish devotion. She is the mousy woman always taken for granted. When her cup of humiliation finally runs over, Mercy lets loose with a blistering diatribe that received well-deserved applause on opening night. Rounding out the list of losers is Rosie Pye (Dolph), George’s daughter and Felix’ former lover. Their affair, from which he ran when it became too intense, resulted in a daughter, about which he was never told. Sorting out the various attachments, Felix receives an assist from Jim (Bronkema), a now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t character who finally helps mother and son discover the root of their relationship. Chudzinski obviously relishes chewing the scenery (in this case the lovely garden created by set designer Chudzinski) and delivers the boorishness of George with great gusto. Girasek-Chudzinski handles Flora’s unexpected 180 degree turn believably and is touching when her “Eureka” moment arrives. Lighting and sound also are excellent in this production and Dreyer keeps the action as brisk as possible, considering the considerable twitching and agonized soul searching in which the protagonist is required to indulge.
“HUMBLE BOY” plays at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Warner Studio Theatre, 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For reservations, 234-1112 from noon to 6 p.m. weekdays or visit www.sbct.org