Friday, November 13, 2015

The Humans

To err is human; to forgive, divine,” read the lines from Alexander Pope. Stephen Karam’s The Humans currently playing at The Roundabout is full of both errant and divine behavior and a lot in between. You’ve seen these frailties and strengths before. The structure of the play is a family reunion on Thanksgiving. Aimee Blake (Cassie Beck) has ulcerative colitis, has broken up with her girlfriend and is on the verge of being fired. Her grandmother, Fiona (Lauren Klein), is suffering from dementia which provides a kind of musical accompaniment to the action in the form of an atonal babble that occasionally rises to the level of shrieks. The shadow of 9/11 is another leitmotif. Aimee’s father Erik (Reed Birney) had accompanied her to New York for a job interview on the day of the tragedy, with the two of them barely surviving the ordeal.  In the course of the play Erik will reveal an adulterous relationship with a teacher at the school where he has worked that has also gotten him fired from his job. But the play is written like one of the more advanced TV sitcoms, with the small and larger tragedies becoming the impetus for laughter which is well-syncopated by Joe Mantello’s direction. The Humans is reminiscent of Jules Feiffer’s Grown Ups in that its characters are both caricatures and flesh and blood people whose humanity is a source of empathy. In that play the recurrent joke had to do with success. No matter how much success the protagonist had, it was never enough for his father who kept asking what else is new. Here the landscape is even more benign and diffuse, an element that is underscored by David Zinn’s dollhouse like set, a duplex Chinatown loft occupied by Aimee's sister Brigid (Sarah Steele), where the audience is allowed to see multiple exchanges between the play's characters, at the same time. The characters have enough affection to endure each other’s peccadillos and the tragedies they confront illness, loneliness and financial insecurity are merely a sign of their humanity--thus the anthropological sounding title. In essence, The Humans really has no beginning, middle or end. It’s a slice of life both moving and amusing at times and as you sit in this theatrical form of reality TV, you wonder how the playwright is going to wrap things up. Karam does come up with something, but no spoiler alert is really necessary since everyone is left in the dark.

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