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Humble Bees

The sciences of domestic comedy at Redwood Curtain



Late in Humble Boy, the play by Charlotte Jones now presented by Redwood Curtain in Eureka, one character goes on for several rapturous minutes reciting the correct Latin names for flowers surrounding him in an English garden. The names come from the science of horticulture, but the Greek name for a collection of flowers was an anthology. This play collects its own anthology of ideas -- besides horticulture, from theoretical physics, entomology (mostly apilogy, the study of bees), plus World War II British aircraft, 1940s swing, and an assortment of homonyms and puns (especially names). Not to mention ancient comic devices (one of them unfortunately recycled in a heavily advertised new movie) and British class warfare -- all with the underpinning of a modern take on Shakespeare's Hamlet as family drama.

The result is a long and uneven evening of fast-paced and fitfully entertaining theatre, with just enough wit, action and sparks flying from the collisions of fragmentary ideas to keep your head moving back and forth across that wide Redwood Curtain stage. The rest is carried by a talented group of actors, all of whom have their particular shining moments.

It all takes place in the garden of the Humble home in an English country town in 1997. Biologist and beekeeper James Humble has just died, his wife Flora is recovering from a nose job, and his son Felix, a researcher in physics, is befuddled and bereft. Felix had escaped this house (and his girlfriend Rosie) for university seven years before, but returns for the funeral and stays the summer, getting involved in Flora's affair with the wealthy and crassly charming George Pye, and its third wheel, a neighbor named Mercy Lott.

On one level, a sometimes creaky and confusing but witty sort of sitcom ensues, with sudden resolutions (both simple and mystical) and at least one plot point left dangling. As for other levels -- though suggestions of deeper dimensions in ordinary life are very welcome on any stage, sorting this collection of ideas and images may require chaos theory.

Susan Abbey is outstanding as Flora. She's on stage a lot and is consistently convincing. Dmitry Tokarsky does well with Felix (the Hamlet figure, mourning his father, upset with his mother etc.), but this character seems to be an anthology of ideas and characteristics. At the other end of character, George Pye is all one note, but Gary Sommers plays it with conviction and comic effect.

James Read ("Jim," the apparent gardener) is glorious in that flower recitation; Christina Jioras (Mercy) has a very funny and poignant soliloquy; and Theresa Ireland (Rosie) leavens her level-headed character with sudden raucous moments, as when she ravishes her young physicist: " Just lie back and think of the Big Bang."

Director Cassandra Hesseltine guides these fine performances, though her characters were sometimes so far apart on that stage that they might have been in different plays. Some of the story remained unclear. Daniel Nyiri is listed as "scenic consultant," so I guess the attractive garden set is at least partly his. Jon Turney provides sounds that are probably important, as the drama turns on the discovery of a new species of bumblebee. Michael Burkhart designed the lighting.

Humble Boy continues Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights through Nov. 20, with a Sunday matinee on Nov. 14.


Last week at Dell'Arte, the young Portland ensemble Hand2Mouth presented Everyone Who Looks Like You, a show about a family, created by the ensemble mostly from their own experiences. Using song and movement as well as monologues and scenes, it was energetic and uncompromising in its expression of family dynamics, often among siblings, almost always from the (adolescent/young adult) children's point of view. But neither the form nor the content could support it for as long as it went on, and on, and on, literally without a break. What started out as trenchant and affecting became suburban white whining and breakfast nook angst.

Coming Up:

Jeff DeMark performs his original They Ate Everything But Their Boots at Dell'Arte's Carlo Theatre Friday through Sunday (Nov. 12-14) at 8 p.m. There will be more music than in earlier incarnations, DeMark says, this time provided by Tim Randles as well as Matt Knight. "I've edited parts of it, I wrote a new ending and generally just tried to find the truth and humor in it. I've realized it's really about things other than the search for a house, though that is certainly in it, and the whole process and madness of rehabilitating a 100-year-old Victorian. It's about the journey of trying to find a place to fit in, to feel home, and with that comes a lot of feeling of destiny, luck or lack of luck. There are thoughts about synchronicity and how little logic has to do with our lives as compared to chance and fortune."

The set is by Michelle McCall Wallace, her spouse Jerry Lee Wallace appears in a cameo. DeMark has dedicated the first night as a benefit for Arcata House, which provides transitional housing to local families.


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