CC1 Humble.jpg: Paul Hopper, Barbara Coven and Gillian Eaton breathe life into “Humble Boy” at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network Theatre. Photo: Peter Smith.
Review: ‘Humble Boy’
Here’s the buzz: ‘Stinging’ comedy opens Performance Network season
There’s a line of dialogue in “Humble Boy” – now playing at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network Theatre – that just drips with irony.
It’s delivered near the opening of the second act, at the start of a dinner party at which Flora Humble and George Pye plan to announce their upcoming nuptials to their adult children and guest. “This is the beginning of everything for us,” the audience is told, but we know better: The honey is about to hit the hive!
“Humble Boy” is playwright Charlotte Jones’ comedic take on Shakespeare’s most dramatic tragedy, “Hamlet.” There are similarities between the two, to be sure, but the differences are just as striking: “Hamlet” is about kings and queens, whereas the closest “Humble Boy” gets to royalty is Flora Humble, the “queen bee” of Cotswolds Village; drinks are intentionally poisoned in one, but it’s soup that’s accidentally “enhanced” in the other; and whereas murder and mayhem reign supreme in Shakespeare’s drama, only the latter can be found in Jones’ humorous work.
It’s a delicious script, full of witty lines, well defined characters and perceptive observations. Yet at the same time, there’s almost too much “stuff” crammed into the story: Think “Proof” but with the superstring theory instead of mathematical equations or “Copenhagen” with theoretical astrophysics rather than simply nuclear theory.
Plus, there’s those bees!
Felix Humble has returned home after several years to attend his father’s funeral. James, the deceased, was a man of few passions and little notice. A biologist and teacher by trade, James was fascinated by the bees he raised and studied in his backyard. However, a sudden heart attack not only ended his life, but the bees’ residency, as well: Flora – James’ snooty but still gorgeous wife – evicted the bees almost immediately upon his demise.
That doesn’t sit well with Felix – nor does Flora’s relationship with George Pye, the father of Felix’s former lover. (See what a tangled web Jones weaves?)
But like a British drawing room comedy – except this story takes place in a backyard flower garden – people converse, secrets spill forth and clashes take place.
And if you know your “Hamlet”, a big revelation towards the end of the show comes as no surprise whatsoever.
Credit goes to Director Malcolm Tulip for taking what is a very “chatty” script and imbuing it with vigor. Although it seemed to take a few minutes to kick into high gear last Friday night, Tulip’s production is beautifully paced and skillfully interpreted.
And what an eye he has for casting!
Gillian Eaton and Paul Hopper are wickedly delightful as Flora and George. Eaton delivers her lines with a drollness that’s couldn’t be better, while Hopper has the audience in stitches watering the grounds as only a man can do.
Fine performances are also given by Will Myers (Felix), Barbara Coven (who, as Mercy Lott, has a laugh-filled meltdown saying grace), Charles Sutherland (the gardener) and Michele Messmer (Rosie Pie).
The most spectacular character in the show, however, is Monika Essen’s lavish and colorful set. My own backyard flower garden should look so great!
“Humble Boy” Presented Thursday through Sunday at Performance Network Theatre, 120 E. Huron, Ann Arbor, through Oct. 31. Tickets: $20 – $32.50. 734-663-0681. www.performancenetwork.org.
The Bottom Line: What more can you ask for – fine direction, a talented cast and excellent technical work mesh well with a script that although is witty, sometimes meanders and tries to cover too much territory.
Tidbits: Theater news from around town
2005 Arts Funding finalized; MOT Opera Ball; Second City news
ITEM: Arts organizations in Michigan are breathing a little easier this week, as the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs announced $11.7 million in grants last week for fiscal year 2005.
The grants reflect no budget cuts for the coming year, nor was there an increase in the budget over the previous year.
A total of 307 grants were awarded to organizations throughout the state. That came as great news to local arts administrators who were concerned that the 2005 budget would be further reduced from last year’s level – or eliminated altogether.
Recipients include Buckham Fine Arts Project (Flint), BoarsHead Theatre (Lansing), Michigan Shakespeare Festival (Jackson), Actors Theatre (Grand Rapids), Jewish Ensemble Theatre (Bloomfield Twp.), Meadow Brook Theatre Ensemble (Rochester), Performance Network (Ann Arbor), University Musical Society (Ann Arbor), Matrix Theatre Company (Detroit), Detroit Repertory Theatre, Mosaic Youth Theatre (Detroit), Planet Ant (Hamtramck) and Plowshares Theatre Company (Detroit).
Curtain Calls not only congratulates ALL of the recipients, but everyone who contacted their legislators for help in rescuing the arts from the dreaded budget axe!
ITEM: Michigan Opera Theatre will celebrate the organizations and people that made its 15-year capitol campaign a smashing success with a black-tie gala fundraiser scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 16 at the Detroit Opera House.
The multi-phased initiative raised $62 million for the restoration of the Opera House, renovation of its two adjoining office towers and parking structure and the creation of an endowment for MOT.
The evening, hosted by co-chairs including Allan Gilmour and Eric Jirgens, will include entertainment, a gourmet feast by Opus One and an auction. Proceeds will benefit MOT’s education and community outreach programs, as well as the main-stage productions at the Opera House.
Tickets to the 18th annual Michigan Opera Theatre Opera Ball are $500 each. Reservations may be made by calling Heather Hamilton at 313-237-3425.
ITEM: Second City Detroit is on the move – again.
When reports first surfaced earlier this year that Second City Detroit was leaving Hockeytown for Novi, the former Local Color Brewing Pub on Grand River was rumored to be its new home. Later it was announced that a 30,000-square-foot Andiamo restaurant and Second City facility was to open this fall at Novi’s Fountain Walk Mall.
But with the owners of Fountain Walk recently filing for bankruptcy, the Detroit News reported last week that a smaller, 15,000-square-foot Andiamo Second City will now be built at the Local Color Brewing Pub location. The space should be ready by next spring.
“Fountain Walk was good, but this fits better aesthetically,” Kelly Leonard, vice president of Second City, Inc. in Chicago told the News. “(The center’s bankruptcy) didn’t bode well for a great future. This (location) has got more life to it and it’s accessible.”