STEPHEN KARAM’S ‘THE HUMANS’ KEEPS THE HOLIDAY FAMILY DINNER DEEP WITH LOVE AND SUPERNATURAL
THE TONY HONORED PLAY WILL HAVE YOU
SINGING “THE PARTING GLASS”
The Stage in San Jose is still serving up Thanksgiving dinner in their current stunning production of THE HUMANS. Winner of the 2016 Tony for best play, writer Stephen Karam sets the narrative in real time. The 90 minute production contains no intermission, so audiences experience this dinner and the family’s cheers, and moments of madness in one act. Artistic Director Randall King says he is pleased to stage THE HUMANS to end the 2019 year “This play masterfully examines our existential fears clashing with our resolve to do better in the framework of the new American consciousness.” Director Tony Kelly brings a tight cast of six vibrant actors to stage this dinner “Stephen Karam’s sharp and beautiful play is part family drama and part psychological thriller.”
The audience is invited to a Holiday dinner party with Brigid and Richard, played by the terrific Madeline Roverol and George Psarras a millennial couple who recently moved in together in a NY Chinatown apartment. They invite Brigid’s family over for a Thanksgiving meal. Enter Deirdre, her mother played by the stunning Marie Shell and Erik, her father played by the keen Tim Kniffin. Aimee is her older sister played by the accomplished Lyndsy Kail; and Momo, played by the polished Jessica Powell her dementia-ridden grandmother. They all have come to celebrate the holiday dinner around a card table with folding chairs and paper plates. Not yet a home, the apartment is not comfortable for anyone, with no places to sit, necessities are still in packing boxes. The apartment seems to have a life of its own as light bulbs flicker. Just outside the apartment walls, unseen things pound and creak, and strange shadows flicker past the windows. Brigid says it is probably just the neighbors, or the busy restaurant below.
In contrast to other more moody families, this is a loving family. They sing Irish songs, “The Parting Glass” as one of their holiday traditions. The bonds are strong with family compassion and forgiveness. Yet the dinner unwinds as Erik who is hiding a family-destroying secret begins to breakdown. Aimee was minutes away from being trapped in the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Her dad Erik still has nightmares and is haunted by the guilt of almost losing her. As the story plays in real time the family members joke with each other, questioning their living choices and try to make things right. Each is dealing with their own pain, and pass that on to the people who love them most. Richard finds himself yelling, “Hey, be nice to your mother,” while doing his best to lighten the mood. To avoid arguments, Richard talks about his comic book collection; about monsters who have nightmares about the humans, setting the banner for the theme of the one act play.
In true Irish-Catholic American tradition, each family member has their own cross to bear. Deirdre, while trying to hide her arthritis, tries to connect with her unmarried daughters who don’t lead the lives she was hoping they would. Aimee suffers from a mystery illness, that doctors have labeled ulcerative colitis, and is heartbroken after a breakup with her girlfriend. Brigid, youngest of the family, works at a bar while trying to find her opening into the music world.
The 90 minute dinner makes THE HUMANS a realistic imitation of life. Karam masterfully creates the anxieties of the middle class from health stresses to class tensions within the three generations of the Blake family. Director Tony Kelly brings this tight cast together with a fever pace of sharp humor and drama with overlapping dialogue that boils with realism. The set designed by Giulio Perrone is important to the staging as scenes play out on both levels simultaneously. Props by Cailtlin Rumsby include scattered packing boxes and plenty of paper plates and cups and bottles of wine. Lighting Designer Michael Berger lights becomes a seventh character in the play as the onset lamps and overheads come to life. Stage Manager Michael Truman Cavanaugh moves the six member cast in and out of the doorways and transports the wheelchair up and down the two level set.
The performances are outstanding, natural, compelling, amusing and heartbreaking. The Blakes may represent the American working class, but their hidden horrors hit us all: death, poverty, ill health, losing mental capacity and loss of love. THE HUMANS is a perfect snapshot of life for 21st century family battling their own demons and the demons surrounding them. This is the perfect dinner to end your 2019 theatre season. Next up at The San Jose Stage is Bob Fosse’s CHICAGO that opens Feb 5th and Tracy Letts Tony winner AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY closes the season opening August 8th. But in the meantime, bring your own paper plate and cup and join this Holiday dinner - it is a MUST SEE.
The San Jose Stage Company Presents
By Stephen Karam
Directed by Tony Kelly
Must close December 15th
The San Jose Stage
490 1st Street San Jose Ca
Running 90 min with no intermission
Photos by DAVE LEPORI
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