The Production photo for The Humans above isn’t the best photo of the ones I had to choose from. I went with it because it showcases the two things that make this a production worth your time and attention. First The entire cast is represented and they all deserve a spotlight for their work here. Even the local favorite Angela Timberman, who has to spend most of the running time napping, and isn’t given much else by the script to do. At first I thought what a waste of her talents, but then I realized, the character makes an impression, I don’t think that would be the case if a less talented performer were cast. The second element of this production that really needs to be seen is the set designed by Erik Paulson. Look at that cross section of a two story New York apartment. It’s an impressive set in person and also brings up a good point. I usually choose to sit front row whenever I can. You do not want to sit in the first two rows for this show, trust me row three at the closest, I’d say rows F, G,and H would all be ideal.
The Humans written by Stephen Karam was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and won the Tony Award in 2016 for Best Play. Set in the New York apartment of Brigid and Richard on Thanksgiving, they have just moved in but most of their belongings are still trapped in the snow on a moving truck. Coming to spend the holiday with them in their new home are Brigid’s parents Erik and Deirdre Blake, her Grandmother “Momo” who suffers from dementia, and her sister Aimee. All families have dynamics that are uniquely their own, throughout the run of the play we will come to understand the dynamics of the Blake family. Their quirks, the buttons they push with each other are at once universal generalizations but at the same time specific enough that while we recognize them they are different enough in detail from our own that we can laugh at them. As the play goes on we get a glimpse into the lives of these people, through the things they say and the things they don’t say we come to understand their struggles, their fears, their realities. It’s a look into an American family, how they deal with aging, their economic realities, their love lives, their health, careers, philosophies, and religions. At times bitingly funny, but also blisteringly cruel.
This is the second production of The Humans I’ve seen, the first was the National Touring production at the Orpheum in Minneapolis which featured Richard Thomas as Erik Blake. It was neat to see “John Boy” in person, but I have to say I enjoyed this production more. The Orpheum is too large a space for a play like this. This is a small family drama and Park Square Theatre’s space is a much better fit for the material. You need to feel like you are in the apartment with the characters and in this production, I did. That is, in large part, also due to the solid work by a true ensemble cast. No one outshines anyone else, everyone is playing on the same level which with a show like this, is crucial. There are no favorites in the cast or the characters. The cast, because they are in synch, and everyone of them seems perfectly suited for their role. The characters because they each have human moments. That is to say they all have moments where their good qualities show and they all have moments where their flaws move to the forefront. They are all deeply human.
The technical team and behind the scenes personnel on The Humans are equally responsible for the success of the show. Led by Director Lily Tung Crystal, you get the feeling that she has an inherent feel for some of these family dynamics. The set, as already mentioned, by Erik Paulson is so detailed and perfect. From the exposed drain pipes to the bars on the window, everything feels real and it helps put us in this place with these characters. Karin Olson’s lighting design helps to sell the illusion, and also plays an interesting role towards the end of the play. As does the Sound design by Katharine Horowitz, it announces itself right off the bat in the form of noises heard from the apartment above. But there is something about the lights and the noises that I think may relate to a story someone tells during the play. There are things that happen towards the end that I don’t want to spoil but that open up the scale of this small family drama, almost adding another plane of existence to the world of the play.
The Humans is playing now through October 9th at Park Square Theatre in downtown St. Paul. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://parksquaretheatre.org/
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