Review: The Humans (Broadway in Chicago)

| February 2, 2018

Richard Thomas, Therese Plaehn, Pamela Reed, Lauren Klein, Daisy Eagan and Luis Vega star in The Humans            


The Humans

Written by Stephen Karam
Cadillac Palace, 151 W. Randolph (map)
thru Feb 11  |  tix: $22-$90  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Haunting and poignant


Richard Thomas, Therese Plaehn, Pamela Reed, Lauren Klein, Daisy Eagan and Luis Vega star in The Humans

Broadway in Chicago presents
The Humans

Review by Lauren Whalen

Playwright Stephen Karam, also known for Speech and Debate, has been adapting Chekhov of late. His take on The Cherry Orchard went up on Broadway in 2016 (the same year The Humans won the Tony Award for Best Play). His film adaptation of The Seagull, starring Annette Bening, is forthcoming this year. This is fitting, as The Humans has very Chekhov-ian elements: family dynamics, old memories, and differing viewpoints clashing Daisy Eagan and Therese Plaehn star as Brigid and Aimee in The Humans, Broadway Chicagoon major and minor levels. Leaving the play’s opening night performance in Chicago, I heard several audience members saying, “I don’t get it.” I respectfully disagree: I got it, and then some. Thoughtfully directed by Joe Mantello, the first national tour of the Broadway hit chronicles a family Thanksgiving dinner with realistic – and haunting – results.

Struggling composer Brigid Blake (Daisy Eagan) is hosting her family for Thanksgiving in the New York City apartment she shares with her older boyfriend, graduate student Richard (Luis Vega). The duplex is large and slightly off-kilter, much like the Blakes themselves. Patriarch Erik (Richard Thomas) dearly loves his youngest daughter but can’t understand why she wants to live in such a city, such a flat. Mom Dierdre (Pamela Reed) is busy taking care of her wheelchair-bound mother-in-law Momo (Lauren Klein), who is struggling with dementia. Still, Dierdre can’t resist little digs at Brigid’s living-in-sin situation. Meanwhile, older sister Aimee (Therese Plaehn) is losing her job due to a chronic illness, and has recently broken up with her long-time girlfriend. As they nibble on appetizers, drink in the Irish way (read: a lot), and banter back and forth, the faulty electricity and loud noises of the old apartment building portend a dark undercurrent.

Watching The Humans, I realized that there is something eerie about living in an older apartment building, as many of us city-dwellers do. Privacy basically doesn’t exist. You’re never fully alone, and though this can be comforting, it’s also a bit disturbing that others are privy to your most intimate moments. Aided by director Mantello and a crack production team, Karam’s play brings this out brilliantly. As tension builds in the family’s interactions, lights go out and neighbors bang from above. The effect is spectacularly unsettling, symbolic without going overboard. David Zinn’s scenic design perfectly recreates the creaky floors and dirty windows of a large, cheap urban living space, even showing the thin insulation between floors. Justin Townsend’s lighting is letter-perfect, especially a creepy final moment involving Brigid and Erik. Ditto Fitz Patton’s sound, relatable to anyone who’s inhabited a shared living space. The dialogue is wonderfully authentic and even the quippy moments sound like real people talking. When secrets are revealed, it’s not with a bang but a whimper (or several): much like real life.

Everyone is well-cast, especially Thomas (best-known as John Boy from “The Waltons”) and Eagan (one of the youngest-ever Tony winners for her performance as Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden). The Humans is heartbreaking, but refreshing in many ways: a play about ordinary folks fumbling through life and navigating its many obstacles. Karam’s script, Mantello’s direction and the excellent production team and cast accurately portray the fears we have, both everyday and existential, that come to a head when crossed with complex familial relationships. The Humans doesn’t make a grand statement. It just is, and therein lies the genius.

Rating: ★★★★

The Humans continues through February 11th at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map).  Tickets are $22-$90, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online at (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

Richard Thomas, Pamela Reed, Daisy Eagan, Luis Vega and Therese Plaehn star in The Humans, Broadway Chicago

Photos by Julieta Cervante




Richard Thomas (Erik Blake), Therese Plaehn (Aimee Blake), Daisy Eagan (Brigid Blake), Pamela Reed (Dierdre Blake), Lauren Klein (Fiona “Momo” Blake), Luis Vega (Richard Saad)

Understudies: Ethan Hova (Richard Saad), Denise Lute (Dierdre Blake), Susanne Marley (Fiona “Momo” Blake), Dale Place (Erik Blake), Arielle Yoder (Aimee Blake/Brigid Blake)

behind the scenes

Joe Mantello (director), David Zinn (scenic design), Sarah Laux (costume design), Justin Townsend (lighting design), Fitz Patton (sound design), Carrie Gardner (casting), William Joseph Barnes (production supervisor), Brian J. L’Ecuyer (production stage manager), Denny Daniello (company manager), Aurora Productions (production manager), The Booking Group, Meredith Blair and Kara Gebhart (tour booking agency), Allied Touring (tour marketing & press), Devin Day (stage manager), Scott Rudin, Barry Diller, Fox Theatricals, James L. Nederlander, Roy Furman, Jon B. Platt, Eli Bush, Jack Lane, Barbara Whitman, Jay Alix, Una Jackman, Sonia Friedman, Amanda Lipitz, Peter May, Stephanie P. McClelland, Diana DiMenna (producers), Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson (executive producers), Julieta Cervante (photos)


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Broadway in Chicago, Cadillac Palace Theatre, Dramatic-Comedy, Lauren Emily Whalen, National Tours, Video, YouTube

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