by Stephen Karam
Directed by PJ Paparelli
At American Theater Co (ATC), Chicago
Slice of life family drama mirrors our families
Stephen Karam’s world premiere, The Humans is a family drama that finds the Blake family celebrating Thanksgiving at their younger daughter Brigid’s (Kelly O ‘Sullivan) new apartment in Chinatown in NYC. This two story “walk-down” space is in a run-down area in the Big Apple (set design b David Ferguson). Brigid lives with her older boyfriend Richard (Lance Baker). The Blake’s are from Scranton, Pennsylvania and are led by the patriarch, Erik (Keith Kupferer), an insomniac who has much to say about everyone and everything. He is an empathetic and vulnerable everyman struggling to keep the family afloat after some domestic setbacks. Deirde Blake (Hanna Dworkin) is the overly-religious, lonely matriarch who constantly forwards her daughters emails about life and religion. The Blakes also struggle with caring for the dementia-stricken grandmother “Momo” (Jean Moran).
The clan brings all their foibles, prejudices, old feuds, and past problems with them as they each put on a fake “happy” holiday face. The Humans is a realistic work that gets us to peer into the family like a fly on the wall. What we see through observing the Blakes converse, argue, and attempt to connect is our own family. I can remember awkward family holidays where hidden agendas flared up and drink-infused confessions led to shouting and hurt feelings. Invoking memories from the actions of this terrific cast is one of the accomplishments of The Humans. That theatre can evoke and mirror life, especially when the playwright creates such honest and vulnerable characters, gives The Humans its heartfelt appeal. This mirrors and dramatized how strangely and, often cruelly, we act toward members of our family.
We see how Erik criticizes his daughter’s choice to live in a seedy part of NYC. He is a troubled man whose angst eventually is revealed. Deirdre becomes absorbed in her Catholic religion to give meaning to her loneliness. Aimee (Sadieh Rifal) the oldest daughter who is a lesbian, an attorney, and one who suffers from major physical aliments. She is the clan’s peacemaker. Richard is a recovering neurotic who loves Brigid and tries hard to blend into her family.
Filled with rich, honest humor and poignant cathartic moments , we witness the struggles of these ordinary folks to live life stress free and happy. The Humans can be cynical , especially in Erik’s eyes; can be confrontational, especially between Deirdre and her child Brigid. Yet we sense their underlying love and appreciation of each other as they struggle to connect with one another in a world that seems to be excluding them from its fruits.
In this 90 minute one act, the six person cast each have their say with Keith Kupferer and Hanna Dworkin anchoring the work. The celebration of Thanksgiving leads to a boiling point as the underlying tension explodes into truths that threaten the Blakes’ core. Take the journey with these folks and you’ll quickly become immersed into memories of your family’s past holidays. That journey will jar you as much as this outstanding play does. The power of live theatre to transport us into examining ourselves is effectively accomplished here. I now know why Stepper Karam titled his well written drama The Humans.
At ATC, 1909 W. Byron, Chicago, IL, call 773-409-4125,www.atcweb.org, tickets $38 – $48, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through Feb, 2015