Winner of four Tony Awards in 2016, The Humans is the story of the Blake family gathering at a Manhattan apartment for Thanksgiving. This award-winning play returns to Chicago after the 2014 world premiere at the American Theater Company, where Windy City Times interviewed the actress who originated the role.
Straight woman Therese Plaehn currently plays lesbian Aimee Blake, who celebrates the holiday after a tough breakup. Plaehn has appeared in past productions of The Heidi Chronicles, Anna Christie and Crimes of the Heart.
Windy City Times: Tell our readers about your background.
Therese Plaehn: I grew up about 45 minutes outside of Boston. I am the youngest of a big family, not to far from the Blakes in terms of Irish Catholicism. I went to Providence College and did grad work at American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
I have been in New York for about 12 years.
WCT: You studied theater?
TP: Yes. I got my MFA in acting. I was an english major in college. I was late to the game. I moved to New York with friends where I started bartending, waitressing, and auditioning.
WCT: How were you cast in The Humans?
TP: I auditioned four times. I had read the play and loved it. I had a strong connection to it. Every time I came back in to audition I was happy to get over the next hurdle. I was glad to be in the running. It was super exciting.
WCT: What did you like so much about your character?
TP: She's super-strong, funny, deeply loyal to her family and cares about them. She is the smartest person in the room, tracking the family dynamics, and she tries to keep things light. She has a really big internal life. Aimee has a lot going on with an illness, a breakup, and a job loss, yet is trying to make everybody happy.
WCT: Tell people the basics about Aimee Blake.
TP: My character has had a long term girlfriend and this is the first holiday that her family has been without Carol, her past girlfriend. I think experiencing the holiday without your partner is difficult. I think everyone can relate to that. That missing person that would be sitting next to you at the table is really difficult.
It is a new breakup and they were together for a long time. There was a long history together. It is the most vulnerable holiday that Aimee has had.
WCT: Just when the holidays are over, The Humans arrives in Chicago.
TP: We were in Seattle when we did the show a couple of days after Thanksgiving. The audience was shocked thinking they had just done that! It is a very close to home type of play.
WCT: I saw the show in a little theater in Chicago. Now The Humans has such a wider audience.
TP: It moved to Broadway, won several Tonys and now it's hitting the road. It is exciting because this is the only current tour of a Broadway play. While there are many musicals, it is rare that a play tours.
WCT: What is the challenge [moving] to big venues?
TP: It is a progression that we will face in each new city. We do a sound check in every city to get a sense of what the house is like. In Seattle, it was about 800 seats and, in Chicago, there are over 2,000 seats. In Seattle, it felt like the audience was inside our apartment; in Chicago, it will be like they are watching a terrarium.
WCT: A bit like watching it on TV?
TP: Yes, but I think the play holds up because the language is so good. It is written in such a precise way that it is almost like a musical composition.
WCT: You have been to Chicago before?
TP: Yes, I spent a lot of my 20s there. I have a lot of friends that I don't ever get to see that live in Chicago. A bunch are coming on opening night. That is the best part of being on the road is that I can reconnect with people I wouldn't normally get to see.
WCT: Have your parents seen it?
TP: You are so cute to ask that! They are going to see it when we are in Boston. There is one night in Boston that I have 40 family members coming.
I was in Our Town one time in Boston when all of my family came. It is a different kind of nerves!
WCT: So you were on the television show Mr. Robot?
TP: Yes. It was a small part, but very cool. Don't blink or you will miss me. I was in an infomercial on TV in one scene.
WCT: Did you meet Donnie Wahlberg when you filmed Blue Bloods?
TP: No. I played a reporter asking Tom Selleck a question.
WCT: What do you hope that audiences will get out of The Humans?
TP: I love how the show makes you feel. It makes people feel connected to the material and to each other. I had a cousin who is 20 years old come to see it with my aunt who is in her sixties. The age range of people who are loving this is very interesting to me. It spans generations and is really special.
The Humans shakes the family tree at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., through Sunday, Feb. 11. Tickets can be found at BroadwayInChicago.com .