Black holes, the Big Bang, bereavement and bees—these are the obsessions of Capital Stage’s Humble Boy. Actually, the humble boy referred to in the title of Charlotte Jones’ dark tragicomedy is a 35-year-old man who’s been reduced to a stuttering child by his domineering mother during a visit home.
Felix Humble, a Cambridge research fellow in astrophysics, sees everything either through the lens of his science or metaphorically in the context of bees, which were his recently deceased biologist father’s obsession.
All the action takes place on a placid patio, accessorized with tangled vines and a white beehive box standing sentry in the corner. On this trip home, after failing to deliver his father’s eulogy, Humble finds himself regressed into bitter, childish bantering with his overbearing mother, a queen who dominates all men in her hive. In this Hamlet-esque household, the two are perfect foils: Son Felix is a flustered, blustering buffoon, while mother Flora is a haughty cucumber so cool she forms ice every time she speaks.
Humble Boy is a peculiar play with quirky characters buzzing in way too many directions at once—but forgivable in its excess because it’s always entertaining, intriguing and witty. Its whole dysfunctional clan—mother, son, gardener, mother’s lover, lover’s daughter and funky family friend—swarms with pent-up frustrations.
The biggest joy is in watching the two talented leads buzz around each other, stinging with ferocity. Peter Mohrmann is the perfect Felix man-child, pathetic yet sympathetic. And Janis Stevens demonstrates why she just got a New York Drama Desk Award nomination.
You can gauge Stevens’ impressive talents by comparing her drama-queen-ice-princess mother in Humble Boy to her portrayal earlier this year of the reserved, repressed architect in Becoming Julia Morgan. The two characters couldn’t be more different, but Stevens has wonderfully captured the eccentric essences of both.
The two leads are so suited for each other that there’s a noticeable absence of energy when they aren’t on stage together. However, the rest of the cast, under the watchful eye of director Stephanie Gularte, is still impressive. It includes David Silberman as the eager lover, Georgann Wallace as the loopy friend, Kathleen Saumure as a daughter/lover/mother and SN&R movie critic Jim Lane as the mysterious gardener.