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The Humans
by Stephen Karam
DIrected by Steven Woolf
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
February 9, 2018

Carol Schultz, Kathleen Wise, Brian Dykstra, Darrie Lawrence, Lauren Marcus, Fajer Kaisi
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Rep’s latest production is 2016’s Tony Award winner for Best Play, and it’s an impressive production. Stephen Karam’s The Humans combines vivid characterizations with a remarkable, brilliantly structured script to make what first appears to be a fairly simple family gathering into something that’s a lot more than that. With an excellent cast and superb direction by the Rep’s Artistic Director Steven Woolf, this is an intense, stunning experience.

The action takes place in run-down, mostly empty two-level duplex apartment in Chinatown in New York City. Aspiring musician Brigid Blake (Lauren Marcus) and her grad student boyfriend Richard (Fajer Kaisi) have recently moved there, and they’re getting ready to host her family for Thanksgiving dinner. The family includes her Irish-Catholic parents, Erik (Brian Dykstra) and Deirdre (Carol Schultz), older sister Aimee (Kathleen Wise), and elderly grandmother “Momo” (Darrie Lawrence) who is suffering from dementia. The seemingly conventional gathering with the usual expected conflicts–suburban, more tradionally-minded parents having trouble understanding their children’s choices and heartbreaks–are there, but there’s a lot more here as well, including possibly the best on stage approximation of panic and fear that I have seen portrayed, especially in the last few minutes of the play. The relationships here are believable, the conflicts real and plausible, and the connections to real-world events both surprising and unsurprising at the same time. In the course of a mere 90 minutes, the play manages to portray a full world of emotions and relationships represented in this one family. We see regrets of aging, the pain of loss–of memory (for Momo) and of relationships (for Aimee, who has recently broken up with her longtime girlfriend), of financial security (for several characters), and more. We also see the strengths of relationships both romantic and familial. There’s a lot going on here, and Karam’s excellent script builds the emotion and action extremely well.

The casting is uniformly surperb, and the relationship chemistry–so crucial for this play-is especially impressive. This is a believable family and all the relationships make sense. Dykstra as Erik portrays a sense of strength and pride, as well as a real vulnerability and growing sense of dread that makes the last few moments of the play especially riveting. There are also strong performances from Schultz as the self-sacrificing Deirdre, Marcus and Wise as their very different but still close daughters, Kaisi as the determined, devoted Richard, and Lawrence in the challening role of Momo, who spends much of the play repeating rote phrases and seeming disconnected from the rest of the family, until some key moments. The relationships are an important element in what makes this play work, along with the excellent script that gradually reveals the truth behind the initial appearances.

Technically, the usual top-notch production values at the Rep ably contribute to the drama of the play. The two-level set by Gianni Downs is at once realistic and a little unsettling in that it seems at once finished and unfinished. There’s also excellent use of lighting by Rob Denton and sound by Rusty Wandall to heighten the building sense of unease that grows as the story progresses. The costumes, by Dorothy Marshall Englis, also suit the characters well.

This is a play about family, but also about the stresses and fears of living in uncertain times. The Humans is a play for the 21st Century along with portraying some timeless elements of relationship as well. It’s an engrossing and occasionally unsettling experience, impeccably produced at the Rep. It’s a riviting play from start to finish, but the last five minutes are especially unforgettable.

 

Carol Schultz, Brian Dykstra, Lauren Marcus, Kathleen Wise, Faier Kaisi
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting The Humans until March 4, 2018

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