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THEATER REVIEW The Humans
by Jonathon Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2018-02-07

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Playwright: Stephen Karam

At: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St. Tickets: 800-775-2000; BroadwayInChicago.com; $25-$98. Runs through: Feb. 11

The Humans, a rare successful contemporary American drama, had its world premiere in Chicago at the American Theater Company before gaining Off-Broadway and Broadway success.

It's about the Blakes, an Irish-American family comprised of sixty-something parents Erik and Dierdre (Richard Thomas, Pamela Reed) from Scranton, PA, their adult daughters Aimee and Brigid (Therese Plaehn, Daisy Egan) and Erik's Alzheimer-addled mother, called Momo (Lauren Klein). They gather for Thanksgiving at the slightly creepy Lower Manhattan tenement apartment (not yet unpacked/furnished) of Brigid and boyfriend Richard Saad (Luis Vega), presumably of Arabic heritage.

The middle-class Blakes are neither distinguished nor distinctive. The white-collar parents are observant Catholics who accept that their daughters are not (Dierdre goes on a bit but not heavily), and that Aimee is a Lesbian while Brigid lives unmarried with a non-Catholic and Momo is gaga. Things are tough at present. Attorney Aimee has lost her job, split with her girlfriend and faces surgery. Brigid also is out of work. Erik, too, has been fired for an affair with a female colleague at work. He and Dierdre are OK (he says), but the family house and vacation property must be sold to provide money to live on and care for Momo.

Any of these issues, singly, could be a play (and all have been) but The Humans doesn't dwell on them because it isn't about issues; it's about the fabric of family life, woven with minutiae, from which we try to extract a bit of satisfaction while struggling to get along fiscally and emotionally. Déjà vu, the human comedy. As Aimee puts it in one of the funniest lines, should we "go through life unhappy alone, or unhappy with someone else?" Whichever, life and these characters go on.

The Humans plays out in real time (about 95 minutes) on a gritty two-level set (David Zinn) showing the oddly-duplexed apartment—tilted by settling and age—with a basement kitchen down a spiral staircase. Its shadows, faulty wiring, empty rooms, shocking noises and unexplained creaks and hums are a metaphor for our own interior landscapes. In the closing moments it quasi-mystically comes to embody Erik's personal failures and fears.

The fine six-person ensemble cast of this Broadway tour bravely delivers The Humans without microphones (as far as I could tell) in a theater far too big for it, and while the intimacy necessary for the play is lost, the words are not. The Humans is not especially profound compared to other family dramas (say, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Death of a Salesman or Antigone), in part because its story and characters never reach resolution, but it's as believable a depiction of real life as any I've seen, filled with truthful moments.


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