March 31, 2016
Here we go, a flawed but loving family converges in the home of the youngest daughter, Brigid Blake (Sarah Steele) and her congenial partner Arian Moayed (Richard Saad) for Thanksgiving dinner. Not possible for this to be anything but a tragi-comedy. Written with a gimlet eye by Stephen Karam, The Humans is just that—a bunch of people trying their best to be human.
This Midwestern family travels through wicked weather for a reunion arriving at the rather bare, two floor, NYC apartment -- the kind that memorialize tubs in the kitchen. Mom--Deirdre Blake (Jayne Houdyshell), dad—Erik Blake (Reed Birney), sister—Aimee Blake (Cassie Beck) and hobbled grandma, Fiona “Momo” Blake (Lauren Klein) converge on the industrial style space aptly designed by David Zinn.
The entrance and bathroom upstairs hover over the tiny kitchen and living area downstairs. Perfectly set-up for secret conversations separated from the cosmetically devised family unity. A rather familiar family unit, the candid, physically ample mother who just can’t help speaking her mind, consistently agitates her daughters. Dad, the passive aggressive good guy attempts to keep the peace until he’s drawn into the ever-insistent family angst. And everyone’s despair projected at a daughter who chooses life in an urban jungle—awash in crime, noise, unhealthy environs – you know, every day existence in NYC.
As tensions flare, and all the old hurts are picked at and rubbed into red knobs of anger, the family consistently tries to find a supportive balance that at best, dips towards exasperation.
In the space of one afternoon, insecure family members unload persistent health and financial dilemmas, but in the sure-fire hands of director Joe Mantello, they never lose that blood-link that ties all families into a portrait of fluid love. The well-picked cast snaps into their characters with ease and honesty. Jayne Houdyshell exudes competent “mother earth” qualities that balance her husband’s wistfulness, the daughter’s anxieties, and mother’s enveloping entropy. Intent on pursuing her acting career after paying off student debt, her boyfriend finds meaning as a social worker two years away from a family inheritance.
For many, this is a real depiction of families, with barely an ounce of exaggeration. Therefore, audience members can be heard asking why this is considered so groundbreaking? Well, maybe not in the typical family (many are far more dysfunctional) but in the end, the characters are deeply drawn and all the anxieties are feverishly nailed.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis