On March 30th, 2023, Columbia University Players (CUP) opened Humble Boy, a play about grief, familial relationships, astrophysics, and bees.
Humble Boy follows Felix Humble (Reese Alexander BC ‘25), a Cambridge astrophysicist who finds himself back at his childhood home due to the untimely death of his father, horticulturist James Humble. The strained relationship between Felix and his mother, Flora (Mimi Wu, CC ‘26), takes center stage as the two grieve the loss of James. Humble Boy also explores Flora’s long standing affair with George Pye (Aidan Ong, CC ‘26) and Felix’s relationship with George’s daughter Rosie (Shea Rodriguez, CC ‘26).
Inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Humble Boy explores dysfunctional relationships and grief within the family’s garden, where James Humble died and spent most of his time keeping bees and tending to plants.
Director Maya Shore (BC ‘25) describes the garden as central to the story. “It is the center of the home and where all the tension is. That’s why we had the idea to make the space a deconstructed house,” says Shore. “So the tree was made out of chairs, and the grass was made out of carpets.”
An oven, a bed, a table, and chairs all covered in colorful flowers imagine the displaced setting of the interior home onto the outdoor garden, transporting the audience into a unique space that seemed overgrown and unkempt, and reflecting the lives and relationships of the characters that inhabit the space. To further immerse the audience, an installation that includes gardening tools, a beekeeping suit, and a video projection of bees plays in the lobby as the audience walks into the theater.
“We wanted it to feel like you had to walk through this home and through these memories to get to the show,” Shore says.
Shore emphasizes the importance of collaboration when directing Humble Boy. “The actors were able to gain confidence, especially because many of them were first-time actors on the Columbia campus,” Shore says. “A lot of them never had a director that allowed them to explore so much in their decisions and think that is just a great and wonderful process.”