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Humble Boy

June 11th, 2010 No comments

Saw this on the last night it was up at Dobama.  It was alright.  The cast and direction was very good, but the play itself was a little up and down. 

For me, the opening scene of the second act saved the play.  I was nearly ready to leave after the first act and several people that I know who were in attendance did leave.  I also saw two people sleeping (of course, this could have as much to do with the aging of the audience as the play itself).  The first act was almost entirely exposition.  That is really what dragged the thing down.  The second act saved the play because it took advantage of the painstakingly laid ground work of the first.

There were some intriguing interludes, where Felix Humble (Andrew Cruse) has a sort of twilight cranial experience that conjures his dead father.  But these were few.  The whole play reminded me of a collision between Proof, by David Auburn, and Hay Fever, by Noel Coward.  That is, it has the whole self-righteous young, brilliant, diffident intellectual child who can’t get out of the shadow of a dead father (and in Felix Humble’s world a strong willed, overbearing, selfish mother)–whose ghost appears in the play; as well as the flighty, ferociously French-scened encounters with screwball family members, neighbors, friends, etc.  The play is periodically funny and periodically witty.  I don’t think it accomplishes what it wants.  I, for one, wasn’t affected by it–in the sense of having any profound revelation or connecting to the characters in any deeply, meaningful way.  After the first act I wanted to swat Felix every time he stuttered.

The characters were well-drawn and believable: smart, unbelievably stupid and frustrating, funny, vulnerable, assertive, crazy–in short, like real people.  Greg Violand, as George Pye, was terrific and without a doubt a scene stealer.  His rough, vulgar, enthusiastically funny Pye was like many men I know from Mount Vernon/Fredericktown where I grew up: unassuming, direct, rustic–the kind of guy who’ll drink a beer, tell a dirty joke, cut a fart, and then comment on the ass of the woman who just passed by.  Nevertheless, he was earnest and tried his best to win the heart of Flora Humble (Maryann Nagel), who did  a splendid job of portraying and imperious and unforgivingly bitter cougar.  I enjoyed seeing Laurel Johnson, as I always do (Rosie Pye); and Laura Starnik (Mercy Lott) did a wonderful job as Flora’s greatly abused friend–one diatribe in particular that was delivered through a five-minute meandering dinner grace was especially funny and earned great enthusiasm and applause.

There is much that writer Charlotte Jones put into the naming of characters and the themes/events of the play: Flora, Felix, Humble Pye, George (Georgie pordgie pudding and ), Rosie, Mercy lott, bumble bees, gardens, gardners, etc.: a virtual explosion of nursery rhymes and archetypal events–the lost father, oedipal difficulties of the son (Hamlet), unknown daughter, ghosts, etc.  I’m not really certain what it all added up to, though and unfortunately I’m not sure if Johnson does either.  The problem for me is that I don’t know if is supposed to be mysterious, or if she just wasn’t sure herself.

The set was great. It was the first time I had been in the newly constructed Dobama space on Lee Road.  I thought Joel Hammer did a great job of exploding the farcical points and ratcheting together a clearly talented cast.

The Wizard of Oz

July 6th, 2009 1 comment

Ahhh, yes. Sunny childhood fuzzies. Went to see this yesterday at the Memorial Theatre in Mount Vernon, Ohio. My home town–well, one of them. Sorta like Grover’s Corners. Memorial Theatre was a part of my childhood landscape: from Ohio Miss pageants to early musicals and concerts. I was in Oliver at Memorial Theatre. Just walking in made me all tingly and I even got a bit misty with a certain reverence for theaters and realized that slowly, over time, a sort of religiosity has grown in me regarding them–and here was one from my youth. How fitting then that this was the very first theatrical experience for my little girl. Elizabeth, all of three years and eleven months, sat through three hours of The Wizard of Oz and was involved, attentive, even engrossed the whole time. As we left, me carrying her in my right arm, she looked me in the eye and said, "Daddy, that was a good video."


The performance was excellent. It truly was. It is easy to come down on community theater productions, and there were foibles in this one as in most, but I was quite honestly overcome by the community of it. The sheer magnitude of the thing: the cast (79 people and two dogs), the live orchestra, the tech crew, and the director, Bruce Jacklin, who made it all come together; it was impressive. The costumes and sets were magnificent (hats off to Susan Brown). And the tech was spectacular! There were flying monkeys, and a flying wicked witch of the west, and a floating Glinda the good witch (Carrie Crouch), and the tornado swirling everything, and much more. When I think on it, there is not a better performance that could have been picked for a little girl to see as her first show. So, in that regard, hats off to my mother, Susan Hayes, who picked it out.

And of course I was keenly aware and attentive to my little girl. For her reaction was at least as entertaining to me as the spectacle on the stage. And to this end, I’ll remark on the one event that impressed upon me the most–for the whole of it was a spectacle for her, and there were awe-filled moments and frightful moments and happy moments and moments were the sheer zen of the moment was filling her up. But for the frightful, the most terrifying moment was right at the beginning when Mrs Gulch (Marty Bell) comes to the farm to take Toto (Picard Swingle) from Dorothy (Shelby Gonzales). My daughter’s eyes and mouth turned into O’s and she looked at me as if I should go up on stage and do justice. When Gulch took that little dog… all around me in the audience I heard little people crying. The raw emotion of the event so impressed me that I myself began to tear up. It was an unexpectedly powerful moment that, as a playwright, I will not soon forget. Other moments that were of note included the battery of questions that little people shouted out time and again as they watched: "where did the house go?"; "where’s the wicked witch?" etc. That is, paying attention to what draws the eye, what gets attention.

The acting was great. Excellent performances were turned in by Hunk/Scarecrow (Aaron Moreland), Hickory/Tin Man (Mike Andrews), and Zeke/Lion (Matt Starr), as well as Professor Marvel/Oz (Chuck Ransom) and, of course, Mrs. Gulch/Wicked Witch. Some moments were uncannily close to the movie performances which, like it or not, was probably the yard stick that most people came in with–but they delivered.

I had a great time, and from the first act, through the intermission ice cream, right up to the return trip home, I know my daughter did too; and for me, that was the best part of it all.

Runs through July 12 in Mount Vernon, Ohio. If you’re close by, it is well worth the trip. For more information check out or

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