Humble Boy, the award-winning play by Charlotte Jones, may not sustain
its own initial energy and invention, but it provides
A man has died. His son returns home for the funeral to find his mother is wildly in love with another man, a man the son detests. The detested man has a daughter that the son previously loved. An all-knowing gardener comes and goes, dispensing uncanny awareness of the complications swirling about these peopleís troubled lives. It is a wonky meditation on Hamlet, among other literary sources, and for the first three-quarters of the evening, this is enough to sustain our interest and our fascination. The last ìmovementî of the play aims to engage us emotionally and it is here that Jones canít find a solution that works. The protracted ending, though very well delivered by the production (actors and designers, together), drops one style as it struggles to achieve another.
Still, the play that precedes the false endnote has more than enough skill and charm to please most audiences. And the performances never lose their momentum.
Fiona Reid, as the widow, defines the meaning of comic timing. But more than merely comic, she endows the character with a complex underpinning that reveals a human being beneath the tart one-liners and brutal comebacks on the page. Reid, among our best and busiest actors, synthesizes her years of playing brittle comedy and serious drama into a character where both of these styles inform each other. There is no distinction between the snappy retort and the blistering truth. In Reidís hands, Flora Humble cannot be categorized or dismissed.
performance is not isolated. Nicola
Lipman, as her friend, matches
Reidís scalpel-sharp wit with her own dowdy hysteria. Michael Ball, as the
widowís love interest, surprises us again and again, as he suggests comedy
while, in fact, he delivers stark sobriety. Ball shifts emotional directions
without ever signaling the change and, as he does so, he never lets us lose our
way. Sarah Dodd is the most grounded of the characters, though
this in no way should imply that she is less interesting a character or less
skilled an actor. Her sparring match with Reid is one of many high points of
the production and her agility with emotional juggling is as well-tuned as her
colleagues. Ian D. Clark supports the playwrightís punch line without
surrendering himself in the process. His is a quiet and comfortable
performance. In the intimacy of the Tarragon Main Space,
Humble Boy is a production to see for many reasons, not the least of them as an opportunity to experience actors who are at their peak in an ensemble that has brought them there.