THEATER REVIEW: “The Humans” @ Proctors, 3/6/18

(Richard Thomas, Therese Plaehn, Pamela Reed, Lauren Klein, Daisy Eagan and Luis Vega (photo: Julieta Cervantes)
“The Humans” stars Richard Thomas, Therese Plaehn, Pamela Reed, Lauren Klein, Daisy Eagan and Luis Vega

Review by Greg Haymes
Photograph by Julieta Cervantes

Family is funny – in both the “ha-ha” and “peculiar” senses of the word. All of our families…

Currently running at Proctors in Schenectady through Sunday (March 11), Stephen Karam’s The Humans plays it both ways with superb results. Equally hopeful and heartbreaking, it’s a comedy/drama about family dynamics, taking place as the Scranton-based, Irish-American Blake family gathers at the Manhattan Chinatown apartment of the youngest daughter Brigid (Tony Award winner Daisy Eagan) and her boyfriend Rich (Luis Vega) for a somewhat downscaled Thanksgiving dinner.

There’s dad Erik (Richard Thomas, best known for his stint as John-Boy in “The Waltons”), mom Dierdre (Pamela Reed, most recently seen in “Parks & Recreation”), older sister Aimee (Therese Plaehn) and grandma Momo (Lauren Klein).

It’s all pleasantries and laughs until the proceedings onstage turn darker – both literally and figuratively. (Kudos to lighting designer Justin Townsend for going courageously dark.)

An insightful examination of family dynamics, The Humans is ultimately concerned with the trials and tribulations of ordinary life – the daily middle class life of parents hoping to provide a better life for their children against all odds and the aspiring-to-something-more life of the next generation who faces disappointment as they surprisingly find themselves floundering. Things don’t always work out. And, no, life isn’t fair. Heck, it’s very rarely fair…

In a chat with boyfriend Rick, dad Erik more-or-less sums it up: “I’ll tell you, Rich, save your money now. I thought I’d be settled by my age, you know, but man, it never ends – mortgage, car payments, Internet, our dishwasher just gave out.” Then after a pause he tosses off the line almost as a throwaway, “Don’tcha think it should cost less to be alive?”

And it can all go bad – or good – in a moment. A single misstep can send a life – no, several lives – spiraling downward in an unexpected direction.

Yes, The Humans is a thoroughly contemporary play about the disintegration of the American Dream – balancing aspirations and angst, delight and despair – and it speaks volumes to all of us who aren’t members of the elite one-percent. But it’s also a pretty, laugh-filled fun ride…

The acting is superb throughout, and while the kind of star-power (or at least living-room familiarity) that Thomas and Reed bring to the stage could easily skew the balance of power, they meld perfectly with the rest of the cast, never pulling focus, and always in the support of the ensemble.

Tony Award-winning director Joe Mantello – who’s at the helm for this touring production, as well – has done a simply magnificent job, the action shifting seamlessly from one character to another as they traverse David Zinn’s impeccably crafted two-level cut-away set.

And the play succeeds on a metaphysical level, too – the hyper-realistic over-lapping dialogue perfectly pitted against the metaphorical thumping sounds from above (God’s footsteps, echoes from Hell or just an overly loud upstairs neighbor?) and the final exit.

Unfortunately, as well-crafted as Karam’s play is, the major problem on the opening night at Proctors was that much of his potent dialogue was simply swallowed up in the 2,600-seat theater. Despite my best concentration, I felt as though I missed a sizable portion of the dialogue. Hopefully, that problem has been addressed for the rest of the run through Sunday’s matinee (March 11).

WHAT: “The Humans”
WHERE: Proctors, Schenectady
WHEN: Today (March 9) at 8pm; Saturday at 2 & 8pm; Sunday at 2pm

Roseann Cane’s review at Berkshire on Stage
Matthew G. Moross’ review at The Daily Gazette
Bob Goepfert’s review at The Troy Record
J. Peter Bergman’s review at Berkshire Bright Focus
Amy Durant’s review at The Alt
Steve Barnes’ review at The Times Union

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