Her family has arrived from Scranton, Pennsylvania to share Thanksgiving dinner. Along for the trip is Brigid’s mother, Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell), her father, Erik (Reed Birney), her older sister Aimee (Cassie Beck), and their Grandmother, Momo (Lauren Klein).
Deirdre has spent years working for the same company as an assistant only to now find herself being ordered around by superiors half her age and with benefits that are slowly disappearing. While not at work she takes care of her mother-in-law, Momo who has a form of dementia. Older sister Aimee is a mergers and acquisitions lawyer suffering from nearly debilitating ulcerative colitis. After taking too many sick days she has been told she is no longer on partner track. As if that weren’t enough, her relationship with her lesbian lover has fallen apart. Erik has back problems and a secret to reveal.
This smart, insightful play is finely and subtly directed by Joe Mantello. It reflects the often futile attempt at living and how quickly your life can be turned upside down. It will appeal to anyone who has faced challenges in their life and asked themselves the question, “why?”
The Humans moved from Roundabout’s off-Broadway Laura Pels Theatre with its cast and director intact, the cast is sublime. Sarah Steele captures Brigid’s youthful sense of entitlement perfectly. As her father, Reed Birney delivers a performance that will leave you devastated. The always-brilliant Jayne Houdyshell, will make you laugh and cry with her smart-ass, passive-aggressive asides. Cassie Beck melds perfectly with the rest of the family as Aimee; her sense of grief at losing her lover is palpable. Arian Moyed, who was so wonderful in his Tony-nominated performance in Benghal Tiger at the Bagdad Zoo, is the mediator here and completely charming as Richard. Lauren Klein is magnificent in the role of the dementia-addled Momo. Most of her time is spent muttering seemingly irrelevant statements. The concentration to be that unengaged takes talent. Ms. Klein has it in spades.
If you have ever lived in New York (and you aren’t rich), the apartment depicted in The Humans is a find. But like most New York apartments, you ultimately find more than a few things about it that aren’t what you expected. In this case, the apartment is a duplex with a spiral staircase that descends into a windowless basement. The upper level has a window that looks out onto a grim, dark airshaft. As designed by David Zinn, the set gives us working areas on two levels. It is the perfect pallet on which Karam and Mantello can spread the grim reality of getting through life.
The sound design by Fitz Patton enhances the eerie picture with other building sounds like the sound of trash compactors, neighbors doing laundry, pipes banging, and an extremely noisy upstairs neighbor. One by one lights go out in various parts of the apartment giving the play a mysterious and creepy feeling.
Anyone who is slogging out an existence will connect immediately with this play. It is short but quickly lets you know who the characters are as they establish a complex emotional relationship with you in just 90 minutes.