Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Humans

Yesterday, I saw Stephen Karam's new play The Humans. This family drama teases the audience with intimations of the supernatural, though it never really confirms the suspicions it arouses (at least not as could be seen from the cheap seats where I was sitting).

This tale of a dysfunctional family come together to share a meal most noticeably resembles August: Osage County by Tracy Letts. Similar to that play, it features a multi-story set with lots of nooks where characters can have semi-private conversations while the rest of the family is still onstage.

The play makes extensive use of sound and lighting, as bulbs burn out, LED lanterns emerge, and mysterious noises come from outside a duplex apartment in Chinatown. What is going on out there? Are some strange, ominous forces threatening the humans inside? Or are the humans the most frightening monsters of all?

Actor Reed Birney, who created a name for himself in off-Broadway plays like Circle Mirror Transformation and The Dream of the Burning Boy, takes a star turn in The Humans as a crotchety father in need of some type of transformation. His character, Erik Blake, pontificates so frequently on the sanctity of marriage, the role of religion, and the importance of family values that it should come as little surprise when the family learns he has devastatingly failed to uphold the moral code he champions.

Jayne Houdyshell (whom I will always remember as the hilarious lead in the off-Broadway musical adaptation of Coraline) plays Erik's wife, Deirdre. She constantly annoys her two adult daughters, but with such kind-heartedness that it is impossible to stay angry with her for long, especially after the audience learns what she has been going through recently.

Hanging over the entire play is the specter of 9/11. Not only is the apartment in the shadow of the fallen towers, but as we learn, the characters have a very personal connection to that catastrophic event.

If you want to see The Humans, it's playing at the Helen Hayes Theatre. You can get more information here:

The Humans on Broadway