The Humans on Broadway Review - A Family More Common than one Might Imagine

It's so rare for me to see a show that not only reflects my own family at times,  but is directly related to the work I've done over the past 35 years.  This family would hire me in a minute.

So, from a theater-goers' perspective as well as a professional family mediator with families having parents affected with Dementia, here is my review of this four time Tony Award-winning play.


Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Lauren Klein, Arian Moayed, Sarah Steele, Cassie Beck in a scene from THE HUMANS. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe


Firstly, many have referred to the family in this play as 'dysfunctional.'  Or, many have said, 'this is so much like my family when we get together for holidays.'  Other theater attendees have related to these actors and/or their problems to their own families.  Looking at the age of the audience when I attended, I am assuming the majority of the audience either knows someone who has Dementia, or is caring for someone in their own family with this insidious disease. 


As a professional in this field who has seen, heard and been involved in every form of family 'issues,' there is a positive substance within the relationships of this family.  It's really not about 'getting to the point of exploding and spewing out all your problems,' it is more like having a safe and comfortable environment to 'explode' in your own way.  That doesn't mean for one moment that everyone leaves on a happy note.  In fact, the happiness that flows throughout this play is more like a 'time passer' until the real storm arrives.


Sarah Steele and Cassie Beck in a scene from THE HUMANS. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe


It's a snowy Thanksgiving  and parents Deirdre and Erik (Jayne Houdyshell and Reed Birney) drive in from Scranton, PA.  Aimee (Cassie Beck), suffering from chronic ulcerative colitis, losing both her job as an attorney and her girlfriend almost simultaneously,  is coming along with Mamo, who is 'grandma' to us  and is suffering from outbursts of advanced Dementia.  (Lauren Klein) Mamo, 'plays' her part to perfection.  Using the word 'perfection' may seem insensitive, but I have seen all stages of this horrible disease and Klein covers it all so well, it's shocking to see her stand for the ending ovation without being in her wheelchair.  Klein even suffers from 'sun downing' which is quite common in many advanced stages of this disease.  Kudos to the entire family for loving and caring for their Mamo in a very real way.  But never be under the impression that caring for a parent with Dementia is a 'walk in the park.'   It ultimately will drill it's way into your everyday functioning and yes, in a real and documented way, the caregiver can easily get 'sicker' than those they care for.  Much of that can be the case here.


Twenty-six year-old  Brigid Blake (Sarah Steele) has just moved into with her boyfriend, Richard Saad (Nick Mills in this performance.) It’s a duplex in New York's Chinatown.  It's sounds better than it is, but it's all they can afford.  Cigarette butts line the ' garden area', as it is referred to, and there is a lack of windows, except for one that looks out at this 'garden' and is the only place in the apartment that get's phone reception.


Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Lauren Klein, Arian Moayed, Sarah Steele, Cassie Beck in a scene from THE HUMANS. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe


There's one bathroom and it's upstairs, so Mamo needs to be taken up the hall elevator and through the apartment.  It's dark, dreary and dungeon-like.  There is banging from the upstairs that elevates in loudness as the family begins to unwind.  Light bulbs  go off on a regular basis and the kitchen table looks like a disorganized card game would be taking place.  Plastic cups and silverware from Costco is the norm at this dinner.  It's the perfect atmosphere for family  discussions, discretions, confessions and conflicts.  Sounds like a great Thanksgiving, doesn't it? 


As the play progresses, each of the family members begin to unravel in their own way, whether they are pressed into it or feel 'it's time to unload.'  Either way, there isn't a family  member who isn't dealing with something very real. After all, they are Humans.  Each and every one of us keeps 'stuff' inside when we feel it's either not safe or appropriate to let those who love us in.  We all reach a boiling point and can no longer keep it in.  Dad's secret is shocking and mom is trying to 'deal with it' while working in a boring, low-paying job to just pay the bills. 


Aimee is missing her partner while dealing with her job and illness the best she can, but her wear and tear becomes more obvious as the play progresses.  Bridgid is working several jobs and Richard is going for his social work degree while waiting for 'an inheritance that he won't get until he's 40!' They aren't married and mom is always interfering on that point.  I have to confess, I've been there and done that, as well. Mamo sleeps, mumbles her own little language that only she only knows.


The play is never on an upbeat note.   Even the beginning is quite tense, as discussions about living in a dangerous neighborhood with very shady neighbors in always the undertone.  We all mean well when we get together on the Holidays.  We all look forward to seeing the family 'together' in a loving and tender way.  Yet, there is a reason that on the 'stress scales,' Holidays are always one of the top stresses.


Sarah Steele and Reed Birney in a scene from THE HUMANS. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe


The Humans is the real definition of 'getting together.'  Yet, from a psychologists point of view, they may not have been close to solving their problems, but if we look into the future, there is a freeing of the soul by finally 'getting rid of the devil inside.'


When the show ended (it is 95 minutes with no intermission), I felt the way I did when I saw the end of Schindler's List;  quite sad, as I do when I leave many of my clients.  There was little discussion among the audience as they left the theater and I am wondering  if it's because they possibly related to some of the characters.


Written by Stephen Karam and directed by Joe Mantello, The Humans, is exactly that.  It's a play about people's issues, family relationships, money struggles, aging, loving, living and all the problems that go with it.  In other words, in the world we live in today, it's a story about  many families.


Next Thanksgiving, which is right around the corner, don't make decisions about what you will talk about when you get to dinner, because it just might not turn out the way you thought it would.


The Humans is playing at:

The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

236 West 45th Street, NYC

The play, as of September 15th, is scheduled to close on January 25, 2017 with no alternate venue at this time.


For more information please go to:  The Humans on Broadway website





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