Eugene Weekly : Theater : 6.4.2009


Felix Humble (Wade Hicks) disapproves of George (Don Aday)’s relationship with his mother Flora (Tami Keller). Photo Richard Scheeland.

To Bee or Not to Bee
Charlotte Jones’ award winning Hamlet-remix
by Anna Grace

Savant theoretical astrophysicist Felix Humble returns from university to find his father dead, the beloved family hives removed by an “apocalypse of beekeepers” and his mother entangled in a salacious affair with the proprietor of Pye in the Sky Coach Company. Sound like Hamlet? Yes.

Humble Boy, commissioned in 2001 for the National Theater in London and playing now at the Very Little Theatre, includes many of the themes from Hamlet. The roles of mother, ghost and others are lifted from the murky fog of Denmark and set amongst the verdant English Cotswolds to trifle with death, sex, immortality and bees. 

Like the equations hero Felix muddles through, pieces of this script fit together perfectly. Other moments seem forced, contrived to fill awkward gaps. Yet it is this messy imperfection that makes the script so intriguing. Humble Boy is part psychological drama, part comedy of country manners, with a primacy of words that we associate with the greatest of British playwrights. Like Shakespeare, Charlotte Jones perfectly structures lines that make up for most inconsistencies in plot or character.

Director Leslie A. Murray carefully crafts this production. Like an orderly hive of bees, the actors engage in a clear, communal process to share this piece with an audience. Timing is sharp, and there is a pleasant lack of showboating ego, resulting in an easy give and take between cast members. Murray addresses the play’s frustrating skips and bumps by incorporating live musicians to run us through time changes or support a character’s strong emotions. Brilliant 21-year-old composer Brandon Rumsey’s original score is bees and math and angst and gardens. It is as complete as it is lovely, so natural I cannot imagine the play detached from this new score. Adding to the perfection of the music is the musicians’ staging: nestled in the garden, just behind the empty beehives, organic and integral to the world being created in this play.

Wade Hicks is an able Felix Humble, fighting against the passionate whirlpool of his mother Flora (Tami Dingla Keller) and George (Don Aday), who were apparently going at it long before the meats were even cooked for the funeral, let alone cooled down. The Polonius-like character, Mercy Lott (hysterical Nikki Pagniano), provides a perfectly clear lake to reflect Flora’s narcissism. Pagniano brings the house down with a prayer to a god Mercy’s not really on speaking terms with at the moment. Cate Wolfenbarger is perfectly dry but sassy as a jilted girlfriend. Dan Pegoda continues to impress as “the gardener.”

This play, like our lives, does not have the elegant simplicity of a perfect physics equation. The components don’t all fit, and many of the relationships remain unsolved and in poor working order. Fortinbras does not come in to reestablish order, and flights of angels aren’t singing anybody anywhere. The play doesn’t hand us an answer but rather roils up questions about family and self and sends our minds buzzing as we bumble our way out of the theater back into our lives. The play had me laughing heartily but left me with a sadness that lingered for days. 

Humble Boy continues through June 13 at the Very Little Theatre. Tix at 344-7751.


The Rainmaker opens Friday, June 5, at the Cottage Theatre in Cottage Grove. 

The Depression and a massive drought endanger the cattle ranch, but there’s a worse drought: OMG, Lizzie Curry doesn’t have a man, and her brothers can’t deal! But seriously, this classic play pairs economic and personal desperation with a solution bringer’s silver tongue … or is he a con man? Find out at any of the shows June 5-7, 12-14 or 19-21. Tix at or 942-8001.