You are not likely to walk away unaffected If you join playwright Stephen Karam’s Blake family dinner table in ‘The Humans.’
As you sit through 95 minutes of its members’ litany of problems you may wish you were somewhere else. Or you may care so much about the family you may wish for a sequel to this beautifully acted play so you see if they can surmount their issues.
At times funny, at times heartbreaking, the play has Scranton, PA dad Erik Blake (Richard Thomas) and wife Dierdre (Pamela Reed), accompanied by their wheelchair-bound, dementia-disabled mom, Fiona “Momo” Blake (Lauren Klein), visiting their New York City daughters for Thanksgiving dinner.
The action takes place in Brigid Blake’s (Daisy Eagan) rundown Chinatown duplex she shares with boyfriend, Richard Saad (Luis Vega). Their other daughter, Aimee Blake, a New York attorney, joins the family dinner.
First, don’t expect a family that is dysfunctional in their relationships with each other. Karam injects the play with a familial feeling of warmth and love that overshadows typical parental comments about marriage, apartment conditions and careers.
The problems revealed during the play are individual matters of illness, love and career disappointments, and finally, an uncertain chilling feeling that follows Erik’s admission of wrong doing and future poverty. The admission explains his somewhat distracted air during most of the play.
The acting is so exceptional that you really care about these people.
You unhappily listen in on Aimee’s difficult phone conversation with her former lover and that unhappiness grows as she tries to explain to her family that she is about to lose her job because of prolonged illness.
It’s disturbing and believable to hear how Momo’s dementia is difficult for the Blakes to handle financially and emotionally. It’s also understandable though dismaying that Brigid, a former music composition major, can’t find appropriately related work so has taken on two bar-tending jobs to try to pay her student loans.
You learn that long-time office manager Dierdre works hard for very little pay and, eventually, you find out that her husband, Erik, is losing his job at a private school.
Richard has his problems too. Serious bouts with depression had led him to drop out of school so that at age 38 he is still working to complete his social worker degree.
Indeed, the entire picture that Karam paints is one of societal ills and poverty balanced by such traditional trappings of, in this case, Irish songs and religion.
Joe Mantello (‘Wicked’) directs the show with such empathy that you hate what’s happening to these characters.
A problem I have with “Humans’ is that though the issues are real today, I felt that assigning them to each character in a single play felt a bit contrived.
DETAILS: ‘The Humans’ is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W Randolph St, Chicago, now through Feb. 11, 2018. Running time is 95 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and other information call (800) 775-2000 or visit Broadway In Chicago.
For more shows, visit TheatreinChicago