Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Cassie Beck,
Sarah Steele and Arian Moayed in The Humans.
Photos by Joan Marcus
by Deirdre Donovan
Karam’s new play, which originated at the Laurel Pels Theater in 2015, has
settled in snugly at Broadway’s Helen Hayes. And if you haven’t seen this gem,
put it on your must-see list. Superbly directed by Joe Mantello, it is a
fascinating portrait of a contemporary American family, warts and all.
scenario: It revolves around the Blake family who are gathering for their
Thanksgiving meal at their daughter Brigid’s new duplex apartment in Manhattan. Eric and his wife Deirdre, both in their early 60s, have traveled from their
home in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to the Big Apple for the traditional feast—and
they have Erik’s elderly mother “Momo,” suffering from dementia, in tow. The
rest of the family is less conventional: Their 36-year-old daughter Aimee is a
lesbian-lawyer living in Philadelphia, who has just broken off a long-time
relationship with her partner. Their younger daughter Brigid is a struggling
composer and bartender in her mid 20s who is living with her 38-year-old
boyfriend Richard. Richard is a graduate student who’s studying to be a social
worker, and in two years, will inherit a trust fund left for him. Over the
course of the meal, they all talk about their hopes and disappointments. And,
as the meal progresses, some dark secrets are shared, and deep lessons about
love and forgiveness are learned.
cements his reputation with this current play. Tightly-written, and with
dialogue that rings true to life, he holds the proverbial mirror up to nature--
and to American culture and its mores today. His six middle-class characters
span three generations and deal, as best as they can, with those most human
issues: love, health, money, and work.
no question Karam has a real gift for domestic dramas. His award-winning
comedy about a Lebanese-American family, Sons of the Prophet, was staged
at the Laura Pels Theater in 2011 and became a finalist for the 2012
Pulitzer-Prize. Of course, The Humans weighs in as his first Broadway
venture. And judging from the notices following its February 18th
opening, it’s a darling of the critics and warmly received by the public.
recruits some very fine actors to inhabit Karam’s characters. Jayne
Houdyshell, as Deirdre Blake, couldn’t be more down-to-earth as Eric’s wife who
works as an office manager. Reed Birney, as Erik Blake, conveys all the
psychological layers demanded of his complex part as the father, husband, and
equipment manager at a private Catholic school. Lauren Klein, as “Momo,”
proves that one’s speech doesn’t have to be intelligible to turn in a very
effective performance. There’s equally fine work from Sarah Steele as Brigid,
the struggling composer and bartender who hosts the Thanksgiving dinner. And
other strong performances are given by Cassie Beck as the older sister Aimee,
and Arian Moayed as Brigid’s boyfriend Richard.
Birney, Sarah Steele, Jayne Houdyshell, Cassie Beck and Arian Moayed
expect fancy looking set, designer clothes or any spectacular special effects
on stage. David Zinn’s realistic set, along with Justin Townsend’s natural
lighting, underscores the middle-class values of the Blake family. Zinn
creates a modest look for the Thanksgiving dinner at Brigid’s new duplex
apartment, complete with a plain table and folding chairs (most of Brigit’s furniture
and belongings are still in transit). The fanciest prop in sight, in fact, is
the recliner on the upstairs level. Beyond the humble set, Sarah Laux’s
costumes are just ordinary-looking clothes that you can see everyday on New
York streets. Indeed, function trumps style at every turn in this show.
There’s no glitz or
glamour in this comedy. But what gives the play its ping is its ability
to point up the real difficulties and rewards of family life--and how each
generation makes its own rules. Although the characters sound almost corny as
they express their feelings here, you can’t help but recognize that they are in
the midst of defining—or redefining—the relationships that greatly matter to
The round of toasts
at the dinner table is one of the play’s best scenes. Brigid’s boyfriend
Richard sets the tone by raising his (plastic) cup of champagne and saying:
“This year I’m most thankful for falling in love with Brigid...and
for...getting a new family.” Hardly eloquent—but its heart-felt quality is
palpable. The rest of the family’s toasts don’t match Richard’s rosy-colored
one. But it’s evident that each member of the Blake family is deeply invested
in each other’s well-being and future.
This play is bound to
be tapped for more than a few Tony nominations this spring. So don’t
procrastinate in getting your tickets for this new play. The lines at the box
office will likely be getting longer and longer as the fair weather arrives,
and the numbers of tourists increase in the city.
A caveat: The
Humans is a dark comedy that might not be right for everybody, especially
if one’s looking for light fare. But that said, it is one of Broadway’s
hottest tickets, featuring an ace cast and a playwright whose star is still
At the Helen Hayes
Theatre, 240 W. 44th Street, Manhattan.
For tickets, phone
212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or online www.telecharge.com.
approximately 95 minutes with no intermission.