“The Humans” Puts the ‘Fun’ in Dysfunction

Before beginning the long journey home for Thanksgiving this year, I was fortunate enough to see the national Broadway tour of Stephen Karam’s Tony Award winning play “The Humans” at Seattle Repertory Theater. Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I love theatre, and that my family is far from the Norman Rockwell-esque ideal we all know and love. Don’t get me wrong: I adore my family and all the entertainment that comes along with our gatherings, but we’re an odd bunch. That’s just a fact. And so, a few short days before I flew back to Texas for a hectic but overall enjoyable week, a play about family drama and intrigue at Thanksgiving was exactly what I needed to see—and oh, did I ever get more than I bargained for.

First and foremost, “The Humans” is uproariously funny and intensely relatable. The play takes place in the tiny–and mostly unfurnished–Manhattan apartment of Brigid Blake (played by Daisy Egan), a struggling musician/bartender, and her boyfriend Richard Saad (Luis Vega). They have volunteered to host the family Thanksgiving celebration, much to the delight and horror of her parents, Erik (Richard Thomas) and Deirdre Blake (Pamela Reed). Also thrown into the mix are Brigid’s sister Aimee (Therese Plaehn), a lawyer working in Philadelphia with chronic health problems, and grandmother Fiona “MoMo” Blake (Lauren Klein), who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

Original Broadway Cast of “The Humans”

Photo by Joan Marcus

On their own, all of these different elements seem to make for a strong and heartwarming piece of theatre about the importance of family togetherness. However, like in real life, it quickly becomes so much more complex than that. What begins as a charming examination of middle class American life and the various highs and lows that accompany it turns into something much more frightening.

As darkness falls on the Blake family, primal fears and family secrets are revealed as a mysterious clunking noise echoes offstage. At certain pivotal moments, the audience was collectively vibrating with tension and anticipation, and a little bit of fear. I will admit, there were times when I felt that I had to hide beneath the relative protection of my scarf. The dull and banal fears presented early in the play were made even more threatening by the introduction of a more visceral, mysterious element of something possibly supernatural. The greatest asset to that building sense of dread lay in the ambiguity; is it ghostly or just our collective imagination projecting things that are not there to cover for the fact that we generally have no idea or control over what is happening to us?

Original Broadway Cast of “The Humans”

Photo by Joan Marcus

Don’t let the dark undertones fool you, this play is one of the funniest I’ve ever seen. I can see echoes of myself and my loved ones in almost every character—and based on the conversations I overheard when leaving the theater, I’m not alone. “The Humans” is a brilliant display of the human experience. Yes, there is fear, doubt, and uncertainty, but there is also hope, compassion, love, and family to help see you through all the messy details that come along with being human.

On a personal level, seeing this play made me appreciate my quirky family all the more. We aren’t perfect, not even close. What family is? (An imaginary one, maybe.) More importantly, who would want to be? It’s those little imperfections that unite us, and without them we would lose a crucial part of what it means to be humans together. It’s okay to be afraid of the dark, or failure, or even nightmare women with no faces, because at the end of it all there are people who will accept and support you no matter what. Above all else, even Thanksgiving dinner, that is something worth celebrating.

“The Humans” is playing at Seattle Rep through December 17th. For more information on the national tour, visit: https://www.broadwayworld.com/shows/backstage.php?showid=331861.

For more information about Seattle Rep’s 2017-2018 season, visit https://www.seattlerep.org/Plays/1718/index.html.

ALISON KAITCER | Are we human or are we dancer? | KXSU Arts Reporter

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