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‘Humble Boy’ is a charmer

Play’s characters are self-absorbed, loopy in richly drawn script

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Max Robinson, left, Joyce Cohen, Michelle Six, Sean Arbuckle and Patricia Hodges in "Humble Boy."

Max Robinson, left, Joyce Cohen, Michelle Six, Sean Arbuckle and Patricia Hodges in “Humble Boy.”

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

HUMBLE BOY, Pioneer Theatre Company, Pioneer Memorial Theatre, University of Utah, through Jan. 28 (581-6961). Running time: two hours, 25 minutes (one intermission).

To see Pioneer Theatre Company's production of "Humble Boy" is to wonder how Charlotte Jones could have written such a wonderfully charming play around a bunch of basically uncharming characters.

Flora Humble is the worst. She's cold, self-absorbed and way too hard on her son. (Patricia Hodges is well-cast in this role. She's tall and regal and perfectly able to carry off the required arrogance.) Flora does have some of the best lines, including the one about if a group of bees is a swarm, what is a group of scientists who study bees? "A boredom of entomologists."

Then there's the son, Felix. He's 35, come home to central England for his father's funeral. He seems to be having a bit of a breakdown, and he's unable to go back to his job as an astrophysicist at Oxford.

We never understand the exact nature of his mental problems. We feel kind of sorry for him at first, but we soon start to feel more sorry for the woman who once loved him. (Sean Arbuckle is graceful in the role of the odd and troubled Felix.)

Enter George Pye, played by Max Robinson who seems younger and more handsome than the last time he was on stage at PMT (he played Cogsworth, the grandfather clock, in "Beauty and the Beast"). Pye is a swashbuckling lout, often appearing crude in contrast to the elegant Flora, whom he adores.

George drinks too much and is responsible for nearly all the bad language this play contains, yet Robinson handles the character so deftly that George is far from shocking. (Maybe the words are less offensive because of the British accent. It is like watching basketball on television and accidentally reading the lips of the players and the coaches. You know what they are saying without actually having your ears assaulted.)

Joyce Cohen is the nerdy little Mercy Lott, Flora's best friend. She bustles about the stage like a version of Edith Bunker. We eventually come to adore Mercy. Cohen is grand in the role. On opening night, the audience applauded in the middle of an act, when Cohen delivered a furious blessing on the food.

Michelle Six is also great in the role of Rosie Pye, the only character we can warm to all the way through. Rosie is so lovable and loving that she helps highlight the humanity of the other characters.

Charles Morey directs this play. Peter Harrison did the set. Tommy Macon did costumes. All are excellent. But you'll have to acknowledge, if you see "Humble Boy," that they had a rich script to work with.

Sensitivity rating: Swearing and coarse language. Some sexually suggestive dialogue and actions.

E-mail: susan@desnews.com