CVRep has launched the new season with a production of Stephen Karam’s Pulitzer Prize nominated and Tony winning play, THE HUMANS, and the timing is just perfect. Set in New York City on Thanksgiving Day, THE HUMANS is a compelling look at a middle class family gathering for the holiday meal. Each of the characters, in one way or another, is facing some type of personal crisis.
Dierdre Blake (Barbara Lee Bragg) and her husband, Erik Blake (Arthur Hanket) arrive at the newly rented duplex apartment of their daughter, Brigid (Katie Peabody) and her live-in boyfriend Richard Saad (Ali Zahiri). Mom has brought food, caustic comments about every aspect of her daughter’s life and her mother-in-law, Fiona “Momo” Blake (Mary Burkin), now suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s. In a wheelchair, Momo’s occasional outbursts of “there’s no going back” take on an eerie edge. Also present is Aimee, the Blake’s elder daughter who, to the parental positive side, is a successful lawyer. But, on the negative side she is suffering from colitis and is an unmarried lesbian going through a difficult romantic breakup.
The apartment is another cause for parental criticism. True, it is a duplex, but it is a crude concrete apartment located in Chinatown, with one floor in the basement adjacent to the building’s noisy laundry room and with only a couple of small windows on the upper level. The lights flicker off and on (and sometimes only off) and the upstairs neighbor is frequently the source of noises so loud it sounds as if she was constantly moving heavy pieces of furniture back and forth.
At the start, the playwright mines the situation for humor but gradually segues into tragedy as the characters reveal their fears, angers and unfixable mistakes. Whether this close-knit but dysfunctional family can pull through this evening remains unanswered with an ending that is surprisingly fulfilling yet open to many interpretations.
The cast delivers well-crafted performances under the direction Adam Karsten. Standouts are Hanket’s portrayal of a father filled with regrets and crushed dreams and Katie Kerr and Katie Peabody as sisters who, despite some strong disagreements, remain deeply loyal and loving siblings.
Jimmy Cuomo’s set perfectly captures the dingy feeling of so many New York basement apartments, excellently complimented by Moira Wilkie Whitaker’s lighting design and the creepy sound effects by Karlene “Kiki” Roller which are almost a character in and of themselves.