REVIEW by Rebecca M. Alvin
If you’re like most people, getting together with family for the holidays can be a complicated affair. While no one knows you like your family, it is those gaps in their understanding of you that are all the more difficult because we expect so much from them. And whether it’s your mother’s subtle criticism veiled by a backhanded compliment or your dad’s passive-aggressive nonchalance about what you view as important matters, the nature of these relationships makes it near impossible to smile and shrug it off the way you would with a colleague or even a friend.
In Stephen Karam’s 2014 play The Humans, an Irish-American Catholic family from Scranton, Penn., comes to visit the youngest daughter in her New York City apartment in the heart of Chinatown for her first Thanksgiving as hostess. From the start, Brigid Blake (Danica Jensen) is on the defensive as her parents scope out the new basement duplex apartment with critical eyes. When her mother Deirdre (Jadah Carroll) looks out the window and sees a dark alleyway view, Brigid recasts it as “an interior courtyard.” Meanwhile, father Erik (Ken Lockwood) appears obsessed with suggesting where Brigid’s live-in boyfriend Richard (Nathan Butera) should caulk. Softening the edges of family friction is Brigid’s sister Aimee (Laura Scribner) who is just getting over a breakup with her longtime girlfriend, while also suffering from illness and job insecurity. And finally, there is “Momo” the aged grandmother, played with brilliant commitment to her role as the dementia-addled matriarch by Dian Hamilton.
The title of the play is a direct indication of Karam’s perspective here: each person in this family loves the others and would do anything for them, however, they are mere humans and that comes with a complex psychological mixture of judgments, expectations, disappointments, and protectionism that often overshadows the purity of their love for one another. As the evening progresses, well-meaning mom is called out for her not-so-subtle attempts to bring religion into her children’s lives. The tensions around moral choices, lifestyle preferences, and the everyday issues of aging, health, and economic instability build to an intense climax in a play that is otherwise very funny and, well, very human.
Truly an ensemble piece, this production directed by David Drake features solid performances by all, with Carroll and Jensen perfectly embodying the mother-daughter tensions of their characters. Lockwood’s understated performance builds to an unexpected intensity that was surprising as the final moments of the play reveal the depth of what his character is hiding.
Finally, the set design is marvelous, creating two distinct spaces in the duplex apartment, with action and dialogue often occurring in both places, providing for a layered experience. Ellen Rousseau’s design, with exposed pipes, ceiling, and framing of the apartment—what you’d see behind the walls—really adds to the dynamics of this family comedy-drama.
It’s a great time to see The Humans. The production will have you reflecting on your own family dynamics and what it is that makes us forget our relatives are only human.
The Humans is performed at The Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St., Wednesday – Saturday, 7 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. through October 30. For tickets ($40) and information call 508.487.7487 or visit provincetowntheater.org.