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‘The Humans’ foibles are all in the family

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From left, Richard Thomas, Therese Plaehn, Pamela Reed, Lauren Klein, Daisy Eagan and Luis Vega appear in “The Humans” at the Orpheum. (Courtesy Julieta Cervantes)

The humans who comprise the loving, rambunctious Irish-American Blake family in playwright Stephen Karam’s “The Humans,” the 2016 Tony Award winner from the Roundabout Theatre, are in fact all too human, with problems that range from the physical to the emotional to the existential.

Now on a national tour at the Orpheum, the play, beautifully acted under Joe Mantello’s direction, brings together three generations for Thanksgiving dinner in daughter Brigid’s new apartment in lower Manhattan’s downscale Chinatown.

Devout Catholic Mom Deirdre (Pamela Reed) has trouble with her legs on the staircase of the duplex. And she’s upset that Brigid is not married to her live-in boyfriend, the amiable odd-man-out Richard (Luis Vega).

Acerbic Dad Erik (Richard Thomas) has bad-back issues and spooky nightmares, but, as it turns out, that’s not the half of it.

His elderly mother, “Momo” (Lauren Klein), has dementia and limited mobility.

Brigid (Daisy Eagan) is stymied in her effort toward a musical career.

Her sister Aimee (Therese Plaehn), a New York lawyer, recently broke up with her girlfriend, is losing her job and has colitis.

Richard is still in college at 38; he was held up by clinical depression.

Thunderous noises from the apartment above, where non-English-speaking Chinese people live — plus lights that go out and things that crash mysteriously to the floor — lend an ominous atmosphere.

Despite that sense of anxiety and foreboding — which calls to mind Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance” — the play has the feeling of a generic, sentimental family comedy for most of its 95-minute running time: everyone shouting boisterously over each other at the beginning and joining together to sing a beautiful, melancholy Irish drinking song; Aimee continually racing upstairs to the bathroom and making brave jokes about it; Momo babbling incomprehensibly (and at one exquisitely staged moment becoming physically combative); Deirdre pointedly commenting, to Brigid, about the advantages of marriage; Deirdre and Erik looking askance at the dilapidated condition of the apartment; Deirdre giving non-religious Brigid a statue of the Virgin Mary to “protect” her; Erik comically trying to get the scores of the ballgame on his phone despite the apartment’s poor internet connection.

But who and what the play is really about don’t come into focus until close to the end. Until then, we get tantalizing glimpses of the characters’ individual problems but never in enough depth to be pulled in emotionally. Any one of these human beings deserve a play of their own.

REVIEW
The Humans
Where: SHN Orpheum, 1192 Market St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes June 17
Tickets: $40 to $150
Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com

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