Erik (Reed Birney) and Deirdre Blake (Jayne Houdyshell) head to New York to meet their daughter Brigid’s (Sarah Steele) boyfriend, Rich (Nick Mills). The couple has recently moved from their respective Queens apartments into a shared home in a neighborhood that is supposedly safer, but her father is not convinced. Tagging along is Aimee (Cassie Beck), the older daughter who has just lost both her job and her girlfriend. On top of it all, she also has to deal with a gastrointestinal condition that will change her life forever. The family reunion starts light, with anecdotes and inside jokes being exchanged nonstop. Little by little, amidst the on-and-off consciousness of grandma Momo (Lauren Klein) who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, the conversations escalate into something heavier: accusations; regrets; and later on, a secret that might just tear their family apart.
There’s something poignant about watching family dynamics unravel onstage. The intimate setting offers a certain degree of closeness neither the small nor the big screen can give, like a 4D close-up experience. It’s as if you’ve been invited to a family gathering to witness them self-destruct. Themes like this are no longer new and have been tackled in film and television ad nauseam, but what makes the theater experience unique is that proximity, the immediate effect that hits you. If you have seen the musical Next to Normal, then the premise is almost the same, except that there is no music here at all. Even so, the focus of the narrative remains to be the family, which means it won’t be that hard for you to relate to it, unless you’re an orphan or a hermit who has never experienced a family reunion in your life.
This Tony Award winning play also took home accolades in the acting department, courtesy of Birney and Houdyshell. Watch this and you will know why. Their onstage chemistry is palpable and not even in a romantic kind of way, but rather as that of a husband and wife that has been together for many decades already. Such rapport is hard to fake, and believability is key in establishing the authority figure they should have as the parents in this storyline. That way, at the time of the big reveal, there’s still that air of respect despite the obvious vulnerability that the two of them have to show.
The set seems to be just a simple apartment with a basement kitchen, but whoever designed it also deserves some kudos because it does look legit. Even the hallway that should not be that detailed because you only ever see it from afar anyway seems genuine. The way the window reflects the time of day is also amazing in its subtlety. You know that the one in charge of production design has done his job well when you can’t say anything bad about the set, for the mere reason that it doesn’t look artificial, and thus, does not distract from the play itself. Even the blackouts and shattering light bulbs sounded authentic.
What you will love most about this play is that it’s not a musical but it is attention-grabbing nonetheless. They achieve this by coming up with dialogues that reflect the many realities of life, statements and social commentaries that can very well come out of your very own mouth because they are that genuine. Humor is also not taken for granted thanks to the banter among the family members, which all sound natural. In a way, they seem like an authentic real-life family brought together onto the stage to wash their dirty laundry there for your enjoyment.
All in all, The Humans works because it has a statement to make about family in general, an argument that regardless how dysfunctional everyone is, blood is blood. Fights are unavoidable and misunderstandings are bound to be plenty, but at the end of the day, sticking with each other is still the best option because no one will understand you more than they will. Most of the time you just need to give each other space and everything will be fine. Or maybe not. In any case, time is a crucial factor and heals most wounds most of the time, as they say.