American Theater Company’s “The Humans” Review – Serving Frailty Stew on Turkey Day


It’s probably sometime in the afternoon the day after you see American Theater Company’s production of “The Humans” when you realize that in the back of your mind that you are deeply worried about your sister, your grandmother, mother and father. 


Then you’ll snap to and realize that these aren’t actually your relations.  They are characters in a play so aptly named “The Humans” that you’ve come to care about so deeply in 90-minutes time.


That’s how total our immersion is in the family of “The Humans”.  We come to share not only a Thanksgiving dinner with them, but X-rays of each family member’s soul.  Each is fighting headwinds that threaten to pull them down – some of their own doing, some from forces beyond their control, and most from somewhere in between. 




Near the start we learn that the men—father and boyfriend of the youngest daughter—have terror-soaked nightmares.   The mother grates on her daughters’ sensibilities as only mothers can.  The grandmother is lost in dementia and we know that reports of her “good days” are likely exaggerated as she is fed pills to control her outbursts.   The daughters are finding that the career achievements that they each thought their due will likely remain beyond reach.  The mother, who has long-suffered a dead-end low-paying job, recounts how she devotes her free time to helping poor refugees from Bhutan—one of many subtle script zingers when you consider that this is the world’s only country where the government measures its population’s happiness as the measure of its success.  The boyfriend is both host and tourist to what we imagine is his first Thanksgiving with people not relying on sedatives to get them through the day.


Beyond the nags and carping there is love. 



All are trying to be gentle with the recently heartbroken daughter.  A care package has been delivered to the other daughter to help her navigate all sorts of imagined emergencies in the offing.  For the father especially, family is defined as the place of unconditional love. 



Ultimately this is a story of how this notion of family=unconditional love is put to the test, with the beauty of the script by Stephen Karam being that your imagination will ultimately write the ending of just how that and the confrontation with the loud Chinese neighbors who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving plays out.



This is a top-shelf cast—all—Keith Kupferer, Hanna Dworkin, Kelly O’Sullivan, Sadieh Rifai, Lance Baker, Jean Moran.  Yes, you’ve seen many of these actors shine on other stages around town but the performances in “The Humans” will likely make those other roles now seem somewhat vague memories.  Each of the actors seems to wear their part in skin and inward to the core.  Bravo to director PJ Paparelli for helping to make this so.



Bravo also to American Theater Company that arranged with the Roundabout Theatre Company to stage the world premiere of “The Humans” s on Chicago stages before it plays in New York.  Catch it while you can.


Through December 21.


American Theater Company

1909 West Byron, Chicago


For tickets call 773-409-4125, or visit The American Theater Company website.




Photos:  Michael Brosilow, unless otherwise indicated






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