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Roundabout Theatre Company Presents "The Humans" at Laura Pels Theatre
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Roundabout Theatre Company Presents "The Humans" at Laura Pels Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Uncle Mario's

739 Ninth Avenue (50th)
New York, NY 10019

Casual, Italian Cuisine!
Specialty, Brick Oven Pizzas!
Puttanesca and Vegetable Pizzas!
Specialty & Whole Wheat Pastas!
Sausage & Broccoli Rabe!
Mozzarella Caprese!
Chicken Marsala or Francese!
Full Gourmet Catering!

Sun. - Thurs. 10 AM - 12 AM
Fri. - Sat. 10 AM - 1 AM

Roundabout Theatre Company
Todd Haimes, Artistic Director
Harold Wolpert, Managing Director
Julia C. Levy, Executive Director
Sydney Beers, General Manager

The Humans
(The Humans Website)

By Stephen Karam
Directed by Joe Mantello

Cassie Beck, Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell
Lauren Klein, Arian Moayed, Sarah Steele

Roundabout at Laura Pels Theatre
Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre
111 West 46th Street
New York, NY
(Roundabout Laura Pels Theatre Website)

Set Design: David Zinn
Costume Design: Sarah Laux
Lighting Design: Justin Townsend
Sound Design: Fitz Patton
Hair & Wig Design: Campbell Young Associates
Production Stage Manager: William Joseph Barnes
Casting: Carrie Gardner, CSA
Press: Polk & Co.
The Humans General Manager: Nicholas J. Caccavo
Associate Managing Director: Steve Dow
Director of Marketing/Audience Development: Robert Sweibel
Production Management: Aurora Productions
Director of Development: Lynne Guggenheim Gregory
Founding Director: Gene Feist
Adams Associate Artistic Director: Scott Ellis

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 29, 2015

There’s been no shortage, over the years, of plays and films about family Thanksgivings from hell and beyond, when comfortable small talk turns to caustic intimate recriminations. Yet, with great skill, Stephen Karam’s The Humans mixes high anxiety with deep bonds of love. No matter how many times Deirdre Blake (Jayne Houdyshell) has texted her daughter Aimee Blake (Cassie Beck) with a scary fate for gay women, or texted her daughter Brigid (Sarah Steele) with a scary fate for the planet, both Brigid and Sarah are at this table. No matter how hard it is to park in Chinatown, driving on the holiday from Scranton, Pennsylvania, Erik Blake (Reed Birney) would not miss this family ritual for the world. No matter the fact that Erik and Dierdre have brought along Erik’s mother, Fiona “Momo” Blake (Lauren Klein), with her trusty wheelchair, in her state of sleepy Alzheimer’s, Brigid’s New York boyfriend, Richard Saad (Arian Moayed) is delighted to spend the day with this frenetic brood.

Mr. Karam’s new play is edgy and eerie, progressing from confident personas to relatives imploding with colitis, broken romance, imminent loss of longtime jobs, past emotional traumas, and more, not to forget that one character is mostly silent, occasionally waking in delirious terror and incomprehensible utterances. The edginess expands as members of the Blake clan and boyfriend dash up and down the ramshackle, duplex stairway, to the one bathroom or private hallway, for health emergencies, urgent cell calls, or to quickly fix a misconceived comment, before it metastasizes. The eeriness occurs in unnatural sound effects, ghostly at times, like thuds, thumps, and electronic whining, as well as unnatural lighting effects, where bulbs and fuses suddenly dim or short circuit, and Erik, who works in a Pennsylvania school in custodial maintenance, tries to be useful as the father of the family. I did find the technical eeriness contrived and distracting, as the family’s revelations, histrionics, and unshakable bonds were gripping on their own. Dark humor pervaded the conversation, while a high point was Momo’s awakening and singing along with a favorite family tune, a moment that glued the family within its own folklore.

Mr. Birney textured his performance with facial gesture and body language that spoke to his own revelatory dilemma. Ms. Houdyshell, who like Mr. Birney has been favorably reviewed on these pages on multiple occasions, was the unflappable, nurturing force, one that withstands fissures in her marriage, while caring for her senile mother-in-law. Her maternal needling is forgiven by Aimee, a lawyer by trade, who’s weathering her own crisis. Brigid is the most upbeat of the family ensemble, a composer and student, whose boyfriend will inherit a trust in the coming years. Plans for financial security play strongly in Brigid and Richard’s tones of persona, with financial fears searing the personas of Erik, Dierdre, and Aimee. David Zinn has created a most uncomfortable-looking apartment, chiaroscuro in shading. Sarah Laux’ costumes are ultracasual. Justin Townsend designed the unsteady lighting, and Fitz Patton designed the spooky sounds. Joe Mantello has directed this superb ensemble in such a way that twitches and tics signal impending truths and hidden resentments. Yet, he keeps the ensemble fused within their invisible, unshakeable nest. Kudos to all. . .

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at