The Tony Award-winning play The Humans explores the tough work of being human in a family filled with other humans. Disappointment, unmet expectations, illness, betrayal and aging are vividly portrayed alongside the deeply human need to find refuge with other humans who bring their own unique set of needs, flaws and scars to the relationship.
The one-act play presents the story of a working-class family of four, the daughters' grandmother and the youngest daughter’s live-in boyfriend as they attempt to hold it together during a Thanksgiving dinner.
Treated with humor and sincerity, the play explores myriad issues. The generational divide between parents and their millennial children who have more "faith in juicing than in religion" is considered alongside the class differences of working people versus heirs to trust funds. There are a few references to 9/11 thrown in as a means to explore the importance of expressing love and emotion before it's too late.
Playwright Stephen Karam keeps everything subdued. There are no screaming matches or cringe-worthy insults, just interactions that feel so familiar that it’s easy to find yourself and your loved ones onstage.
The understated nature of the script and the restrained performance of each member of the six-person cast quietly reveal the multidimensional nature of each character.
Richard Thomas (who was John-Boy on a '70s TV series called The Waltons, for anyone old enough to remember) plays the father with subtlety and humility. Whether desperately seeking to comfort his heartbroken daughter or find common ground with the new boyfriend by talking about sports, Thomas is the dad everybody knows.
Playing the mom everybody also knows is actress Pamela Reed. Reed as the mother takes everything in stride, including a betrayal by her husband and the mockery of her daughters. She is the glue holding the family together as she meets the demands of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s.
Lauren Klein embodies the role of "Momo," the grandmother. Klein’s blank stare and babbling accurately depict characteristics of an Alzheimer’s patient, and her realistic fits were difficult to watch.
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Therese Plaehn as the heartbroken and ill older daughter, Aimee, and Daisy Eagan as the underemployed and disillusioned younger daughter, Brigid, give solidly strong performances. Luis Vega as boyfriend Richard provides the most laughs of the evening.
There is a great deal of humor in the 90 minutes of drama. However, at Tuesday evening’s production, the ensemble’s voices did not carry well in the vast space of the Winspear Opera House, and it was difficult to hear a few of the punchlines.
If The Humans has advice on family relationships, it is to be found in a text message that Momo sent her granddaughters four years earlier when her mind was intact. Momo advises Aimee and Brigid to dance more at weddings, drink less than she did, love everyone and take care of each other.
The Humans runs through May 20. Tickets start at $25.