I think I liked THE HUMANS. I know I liked the humans in THE HUMANS. But Stephen Karam’s script is so nuanced, so subtle that I can see why people may not find it entertaining. Set at Thanksgiving in an apartment in Chinatown, the Blake family has gathered at their youngest daughter, Brigid’s, apartment for the traditional turkey and trimmings. There’s Mom and Dad, older sister Aimee – who happens to be a lesbian, and Bridgette’s live-in boyfriend. And Momo, the elderly grandmother who babbles gibberish and has a bad temper.
It sounds like a good setup for a sitcom, but this is not a comedy. There’s humor, of course; the balance of realistic humor with family drama earned it Best Play at the 2016 Tony Awards. But it’s not conventional in that there’s relatively no plot. Things happen, certainly, but slowly and without fanfare. It’s unusual. It’s well-crafted. And this particular production is well-acted.
Becca Howell, who has matured into a solid stage actress since we first met her as an ETC intern, hosts the family function along with her beau, “Richard” (Jeff Groh). “Deirdre” (Christine Dye) and “Erik” (Tony Campisi) bring his mother, “Momo” (Dale Hodges) along. “Amy,” (Jennifer Joplin) the other daughter is there, too. And they talk about things that many families discuss over dinner, like religion, health care, nursing homes, and job stress. Staged on a bi-level set (designed by Brian c. Mehring and dressed by Shannon Rae Lutz), we see them act and react to things they aren’t supposed to hear. We see couples arguing and loving. We see heartbreak – and feel it along with this cast.
The always exceptional Joplin was the first to bring me to tears. She has a knack for physical expressions of grief and emotional anguish. She is matched by Dye, who knows exactly how to connect to the most powerful feelings in authentic and realistic ways. Truth be told, I was most excited about finally seeing the two of them on stage together for the first time. It lived up to my expectations.
Haney does a nice job keeping the action moving, choreographing some intricate dialogue, and putting the focus where it needs to be on stage when there are sometimes two or three different things happening. Over the run of this show, I would imagine the timing will gel even more. I bet this will feel like a different show by its fourth week.
I started this review by saying I think I liked the play. I didn’t dislike it. But maybe its just a little too close to home? Even with an overlay of some strikingly non-earthly elements, this play is distinctly human. That’s likely what makes it great; it’s also what makes it a little hard to watch.
Even still, it’s something you should see. Maybe even more than once.
THE HUMANS runs through February 17th at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. Tickets and more information is available here.