Monday, March 14, 2016

Review of "The Humans"

The Thanksgiving dinner of the Blake family appears, at first, to be like those held at households across the country.  People gather, they catch up, eat, and occasionally spar.  In The Humans, playwright Stephen Karam portrays this ritual get-together with meticulous, loving and at times heartbreaking accuracy.  The strength of the show is its matter-of-fact depiction of family interactions.  There are surprises and plot twists but, while intriguing and eye-opening, there is nothing out of the ordinary.   Throughout the course of the play a number of everyday problems and issues are slowly unveiled.  These include such commonplace concerns and topics as job security, relationship issues, aging parents, medical problems, living environs, and even the aftermath of 9/11.  Yet, this is not a play about a wildly dysfunctional family.  On the contrary, it is a production that scrupulously gives us a glimpse into the natural conversations and drama of workaday life.

The acting ensemble—and this is truly an ensemble effort—is superb.  Each member of the company is beautifully in sync with the others.  We truly come to believe we are peering into the syncopations and rhythms of a real family.  The cast includes Jayne Houdyshell as Deidre Blake, the pushy, somewhat misunderstood mother; Reed Birney as Erik Blake, the rather morose, blue collar father; Cassie Beck as the eldest daughter Aimee, lawyer with multiple professional and personal issues; Sarah Steele as the youngest daughter Brigid, a carefree spirit; Arian Moayed as Richard, Brigid’s much older boyfriend; and Lauren Klein as Fiona Blake, mother and grandmother spiraling into dementia.

The multi-level scenic design by David Zinn, is an all too authentic representation of a rundown, not all that desirable New York City apartment.  For members of the audience that scrounged for a decent place to live in their youth, the set will bring back knowing memories.

Director Joe Mantello has taken the cadences and regularity of family dynamics and made them seem effortless and unforced.  There are no wasted movements or unnecessary theatrics.  Every gesture, facial expression and punctuated speech is staged to make the whole larger then the sum of its parts.

The Humans, at the small, intimate Helen Hayes Theater on Broadway.

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