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The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 9/03/2016 Isa Freeling

REVIEW 2016-03-07-1457387471-8737712-THE_HUMANS__Sarah_Steele_and_Reed_Birney__Photo_by_Brigitte_Lacombe1.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2016-03-07-1457387471-8737712-THE_HUMANS__Sarah_Steele_and_Reed_Birney__Photo_by_Brigitte_Lacombe1.jpg
Over the weekend I saw Stephen Karam's genius play THE HUMANS. I decided to read as little as possible about it prior, so that I could have no preconceived ideas. With such a name, what could one expect? Sci-fi? The implications are almost to see its antonym in one's mind before ever accepting it at its word. It conjures up a green man looking out of his telescope and thinking, "Oh boy, THE HUMANS, what are they up to now?!"
Mr. Karam has so brilliantly encapsulated the Middle Class American family drama of the 99%, it's hard to turn away from its humanity in this poignant family tale. And what superb performances by the players, particularly Reed Birney as Erik Blake and the remarkable, remarkable Jayne Houdyshell as Deidre Blake...If this woman doesn't get a Tony this year, it just wouldn't be right.
The story centers around an Irish American Family...The Blake's are visiting their youngest daughter and her boyfriend in their new duplex in Chinatown for Thanksgiving; what amounts to a tenement ground floor apartment with a basement, which their daughter Brigid, played by Sarah Steele insists they are "very lucky to have." Not many people have a duplex, certainly not where they have the fuse box for the entire building in it, and the lights go out and the mysterious upstairs neighbors make enough noise to wake the dead. It is a fabulously dreary set by David Zinn. Having to look up for the first 15 minutes as everyone is arriving lends itself to discomfort, paralleling what appears to be a mundane family scene of discomfort.
We see a pensive father, worn out mother, a drained older sister and grandmother (Lauren Klein) who is suffering from dementia in her wheelchair. She is dearly loved by her family but "out of it" and withering away, far away in her unknown world, while her late middle aged children try to care for her. With the Blake's come burdens, but they have little family rituals that illuminate even the darkest expanse to keep them human. Both daughters are struggling, though Brigid is living with a guy who is a good 10 or more years older than she is and expecting an inheritance when he is 40. Something Erik Blake finds snidely interesting, since he has worked a lifetime and is in his early 60's with little to show for it. He is a blue collar guy in charge of maintenance for a rich kid's private school, while Deidre, his wife, is a secretary for the past 40 years for the same company,scrimping by and kowtowing to management, never being recognized or compensated for how hard she works, hence younger bosses with less practical experience talk down to her.
Aimee (Cassie Beck), the eldest child suffers from Crohn's disease and has an arresting moment of her own, over a few things that make her life unsettled and precarious, but that is what THE HUMANS is all about...The precarious nature of life-- for what was once the thing to be...working Middle Class...Something that sort of guaranteed you a ticket out of Palookaville...But no, it seems not any longer...This tragedy which most people seem to face these days, is written with excellent realism, humor and love, directed with striking sensitivity and naturalness by Joe Mantello. This darkly foreboding -- but funny play, has a bit of Arthur Miller style social commentary for our time in it. This is our modern day family treading water.

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