by Roseann Cane
“A terrible beauty is born.” As I exited Proctors after seeing The Humans, this line from Yeats’s “Easter, 1916” kept running through my mind. The Humans has nothing to do with the Irish Easter Rising, but the profoundly conflicted feelings described through the poem were frighteningly, elegantly transmitted by this excellent production of Stephen Karam’s shattering play.
The Humans takes place not on Easter, but during a contemporary Thanksgiving family gathering in Manhattan. Brigid Blake (Daisy Egan) and her boyfriend Richard (Luis Vega) have recently moved into a rather dingy Chinatown street-and-basement-level duplex apartment. Joining them for the holiday are Brigid’s parents, Erik and Deirdre Blake (Richard Thomas and Pamela Reed); Erik’s mother “Momo,” who suffers from dementia (Lauren Klein); and Brigid’s sister, Aimee (Therese Plaehn).
Sarah Laux deserves kudos for her perfectly understated costumes. David Zinn’s superb set of this duplex with floors connected by a somewhat fragile-looking spiral wrought-iron staircase is as crucial to the play as any of its characters. We feel as though we’re peering into an apartment whose outer wall has been sliced away. Fitz Patton’s sound design and Justin Townsend’s lighting design–jarring old-building noises which may or may not be created by an upstairs neighbor, heating systems, and electrical malfunctions–create a jolting leitmotif.
I haven’t in recent memory experienced a play that so beautifully informs on so many levels, viscerally, visually, intellectually, emotionally. Joe Mantello keenly directs a devoted, loving, “average” American family, the members of which are at once torn apart and brought together by the pain of their interactions and individual inner turmoil. Karam’s writing and the cast that populates his play are so good that we are able to empathize even while flinching at the certain inevitable, and often unconscious, pain these family members inflict on each other. Thanks in no small part to the playwright’s inherent kindness, this 90-minute work both defines and reminds us what it means to be human.
This road-company production remains at Proctors only through March 11. While I would have preferred to see it in a more intimate setting, I was gratified that the enormous theater was packed with an enthralled audience, and I would urge you to see The Humans before it leaves the region.
The Humans by Stephen Karam, directed by Joe Mantello, runs March -11, 2018, at Proctors Theatre. Set design byDavid Zinn; lighting design by Justin Townsend; sound design by Fitz Patton; costume design by Sarah Laux; CAST: Richard Thomas as Erik, Pamela Reed as Deirdre, Daisy Eagan as Brigid, Lauren Klein as Momo, Therese Plaehn as Aimee, and Luis Vega as Richard.
Tickets for The Humans, March 6–11, $20–$70, for performances 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; Matinees, 1:30 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, are available at the Box Office at Proctors, 432 State Street, Schenectady; by phone at 518.346.6204; and online at proctors.org.