Friday, February 06, 2015

Seattle Public Theater's "Humble Boy" a well-done production

Jason Marr and Macall Gordon wrestling over funeral ashes (Paul Bestock)

Humble Boy
Seattle Public Theater
Through February 15, 2015

As posted in Seattle Gay News

If you boil Shakespeare's Hamlet down, you might get something like: a young man broods after his father's death, while his mother quickly marries his uncle. If you ignore all the palace stuff, the royalty and inheritance and deaths, you might then focus on the family drama. 

Charlotte Jones' play, Humble Boy, now at Seattle Public Theater, can be summed up similarly: a young man broods after his father's death, while his mother quickly takes up with a family friend. Felix Humble (Jason Marr) is an astrophysicist with a distinct dis-ease about social interactions. He arrives home after hearing about his father's death to find his mother, Flora (Macall Gordon), has gotten rid of all of James' things, including the bees from the family hives. 

Not only that, but she has taken up quite quickly with a family friend, George Pye (Mike Dooly), who has great animosity toward Felix due to Felix's former relationship with George's daughter, Rosie (Alyssa Keene). When we meet Rosie, she seems to have adjusted pretty well, seven years after their breakup, though George holds a bigger grudge. 

A good deal of focus remains on Felix, throughout the play. The audience is privy to his discomfort and his moments of despair while he even contemplates suicide. But there are also funny parts. In fact, the play seesaws often between comedy and seriousness, with ease. Dooly, in particular, brings a lot of energy and bombast to the character of George, which is funny. Keene and Marr tackle each other in an amusing sexual exchange, until interrupted. (This may make the play less 'family friendly' than you thought.) There's even a tiny bit of slapstick involved! 

Throughout the play, Felix is given opportunities to remake his life and revisit his decisions. He never takes advantage of those options. 

If the character in the play that goes through change is the character that the play is 'about,' then it turns out that the play is about Felix's mother Flora, after all. Flora is the person who does the most changing, though how and why are best discovered by being an audience member. She begins emotionally distanced and seems like a super bitch, self-centered, narcissistic and self-serving, even when she talks about her mothering in past tense. 

By the end of the play, we understand Flora much better and witness her thaw. That's the transformation that allows us to be touched by the play. Gordon is able to play both the comedy, the disconnected, almost mean, mother, and to reconnect us to the character. 

The whole play takes place in the garden of their home (designed with functional panache by Richard Schaefer) where the long hot summer unfolds. Aided by a family friend, Mercy (Marty Mukhalian) and a mysterious gardener, Jim (Kevin McKeon), the relationships ebb and flow. 

While there is a lot of scientific talk, and Felix's scientific quest is to find the 'mother theory' -- the theory that will unify everything via quantum string theory, you don't need to know any science. Nor do you need to know any botany. Those themes are vehicles to explain the characters and move the story forward. 

The script seems to come to an end several times over. When it doesn't, it allows the characters to change direction, sometimes abruptly. It's a well-done production, directed by Marcus Goodwin, who understands the characters and their shifts well. 

For more information, go to or call 206-524-1300. 

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