Through Sun 4/29
Stephen Karam is one of the new breed of contemporary American playwrights. His The Humans, the Tony Award-winning Best Play of 2016 and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, is now on stage at the Connor Palace.
The young Lebanese-Irish-American writes plays about the human experience that should not be as funny as they are. His painful comedies center on misfits, 9/11, traumatic sexual experiences, depression, dementia, illness, the foibles of religion, infidelity, homosexuality, poverty and prejudice. How can we listen to all that angst and be incited to laugh? But laugh we do!
Karam is noted for demonstrating “an acute perceptiveness for the ways people lean on one another even as they get under each other’s skins.” The author says he’s drawn to “the strangeness in people who live in a state of dread; it’s the psychological realism of the everyday, it seems, that fires his imagination.” Several local theaters have showcased Karam’s other works including Speech and Debate and Sons of the Prophets.
The Pulitzer Prize committee described The Humans as “a profoundly affecting drama that sketches the psychological and emotional contours of an average American family.” At times the happenings seem as much horror story as comedy.
The Humans centers on an Irish-American Scranton, PA family who are celebrating Thanksgiving at their daughter’s and her live-in boyfriend’s New York Chinatown apartment. The couple has just moved into an ill-kept building where the electricity keeps going out, the upstairs neighbors make unbelievable amounts of noise and the furniture hasn’t arrived.
Present are Brigid Blake and her boyfriend Richard. Brigid’s parents, Erik Blake and Deirdre Blake, arrive to have dinner, along with their other adult daughter Aimee, a lawyer. Aimee has recently broken up with her girlfriend and has developed an intestinal ailment. Also present is Erik’s mother, Fiona “Momo”, who has Alzheimer’s. This is a family filled with hidden secrets, outspoken pain, faltering yet blind beliefs, prejudices and failures. As the evening proceeds, their imperfections and affections flow forth.
The proficient touring company cast is headed by Richard Thomas. Yes, that Richard Thomas, John Boy from television’s The Waltons, who has gone on to gain stardom in hit shows such as The Americans and numerous Broadway roles.
The rest of the cast —Therese Plaehn, Daisy Eagan, Pamela Reed, Lauren Klein and Luis Vega — are all excellent. They flesh out their roles so successfully, that we find ourselves “peeking in on” this real family, rather than watching a play.
The set is a bizarre physical presence which becomes a character in the goings-on. The lighting effects are well conceived. The sound system is subpar causing many “huhs” from the audience.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Key Bank subscribers may be thrown off by the fact that The Humans is not a musical. But it, like last season’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night and War Horse, the marvelous hit of several seasons ago, is a straight play that has special appeal. Unlike those shows, it lacks the outstanding technical and special effects to grab and hold attention. What it does have is a finelywritten story that gets an outstanding performance that is well-worth experiencing.
The Humans runs through Sun 4/29. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to playhousesquare.org.
[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Theatre Critics Association and Cleveland Critics Circle]