REVIEW: Humble Boy

PHOTO: Humble Boy at Silver Spring Stage. Photo by Harvey Levine.   


First, the bottom line: go see Humble Boy, playing at Silver Spring Stage through January 30.

If you happen to be an astrophysicist, a horticulturist, or a   beekeeper, enjoy the play for its rich technical talk about string theory, black holes, and the scientific names of flowers.

If you’re not one of these kinds of expert, enjoy Humble Boy for a reason of your own; there are plenty to choose from.

The story: Felix Humble (Joseph Coracle), a 35-year-old astrophysics researcher with lots of theories in his head, but few accomplishments on his resume, returns to his family’s home in rural England to mourn the recent death of his father James, a biology teacher and avid beekeeper.


Humble Boy at Silver Spring Stage. Photo by Harvey Levine.   

After a funeral at which he makes a total hash of the eulogy, Felix is aghast to find that that his mother, high-toned Flora (Susan Holliday), has, as he dramatically puts it, “banished the bees,” from his father’s backyard bee house.

This brings on a mother-son clash, with exposition about the deceased father’s passion for his bees, the son’s ambition to develop a unified field theory (“the theory of everything”), and the current state of Flora’s nose job.

Next, with James’s ashes barely cooled in the urn, George Pye (Bill Hurlbut), a boozy, outspoken family friend, comes to court Flora. (Actually, he has been doing a lot more than that for some time, but that comes out later). George and Felix promptly display unmitigated disgust for each other, which provides plenty of tinder for subsequent fires.


Humble Boy at Silver Spring Stage. Photo by Harvey Levine.   

Felix also reacquaints with his old flame, George’s daughter Rosie (Annie Caruso), in a scene that progresses from tentative to combustible to comical.

The plot mainly develops around the relationships within and between these two families. Much of it depends on playwright Charlotte Jones’ abundant use of metaphor, in which the rich, layered technical talk stands for something much larger than itself. She makes her material work hard, but it doesn’t seem forced. The language serves the plot, not the other way around.

However, metaphor in incompetent hands can be deadly. Like the trick that loses its magic when the audience realizes where the magician has hidden the card, the power of metaphor can vanish when the device becomes obvious.

Happily, the cast and director Karen Fleming know exactly what to do. The play moves briskly, but with purpose. The pacing is assured, the diction crisp. Several scenes are hilarious.

My own favorite: the summer garden party in Act Two, which Flora is determined will be pleasant, but which falters at the outset and plunges downhill, with innuendos turning into accusations, skeletons leaping from the family closet, and garden implements taken up as weapons.

Don’t miss the grace over the gazpacho, spoken by spinster neighbor Mercy (Nancy Blum), which turns from a familiar prayer into a darkly comic dirge – the religious equivalent of a black hole.

The cast is solid across the board.

As son and mother, Joseph Coracle (Felix) and Susan Holliday (Flora) have plenty of heavy lifting to do, and they are equal to it. His rhapsodic meditations on astrophysics and her dark meditations on what a self-absorbed creature she has turned into are examples of first-rate acting.


Humble Boy at Silver Spring Stage. Photo by Harvey Levine.   

Bill Hurlbut’s George is a gem of boozy foot-in-mouth loquaciousness and misguided energy, but he also shows mature emotion as he reminiscences about his aviator father.

As Rosie, Annie Caruso combines a breezy, frank sexuality with the stubborn dignity and independence of a single parent.

Nancy Blum, as Marcy, creates a character whose affable exterior belies unspoken passion and real poignancy.

And Craig Miller, as gardener Jim, grows from a supernumerary to a huge metaphorical figure. You will never hear the scientific names of plants or insects spoken so lovingly or affectingly as he does in his final scene with Flora.

William Fleming’s set is immaculate and clever; the famous downstage post at Silver Spring Stage has never been used more effectively. The set remains in place throughout the entire play – an arrangement, not much resorted to much these days, that helps the production to its sure-footed, efficient pace.

Bill Strein’s lighting is effective and imaginative, and Linda Swann’s costumes tell a lot about the characters who wear them. Felix’s outré fashion choice in Act Two delivers on the nose.

In the hands of the assured Silver Spring Stage cast and production team, Humble Boy is a complex but not baffling, often entertaining, and ultimately poignant and moving story.

Choose your own reasons for enjoying it, but, by all means, do go and see it.

By Charlotte Jones; directed by Karen Fleming; produced by Malca Giblin; set by William T. Fleming; costumes by Linda Swann; lighting by Bill Strein; sound by Kevin Garrett. At Silver Spring Stage, 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD. January 8-30 . Fri-Sat: 8 pm; Sun 2 pm (Jan 17 and 24). Running time: 2 hrs 15 min (including one 15-min intermission).  Tickets: $23 regular, $20 senior/student

Cast: Nancy Blum, Annie Caruso, Joseph Coracle, Susan Holliday, Bill Hurlbut, Craig Miller

About the Author

Steve LaRocque
Steve LaRocque has been an actor, director, playwright and technician in Maryland community and professional theaters since 1994. A retired Navy veteran, he recently completed a two-and-half year run with his one-man show, Byline: Ernie Pyle, playing the famous World War II correspondent.

1 Comment on "REVIEW: Humble Boy"

  1. We saw this play last weekend and enjoyed the crazy story, the amazing actors, and the many belly laughs. Definitely recommend going for a wonderful, entertaining evening!

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