“The Humans” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – May 31, 2018


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

Thanksgiving is a family time and the Blake’s go through an exhausting and revealing holiday that becomes a fascinating journey of twists and turns exposing positive things that the family can be proud of but also opening up huge wounds in the group’s fabric that it struggles against but cannot ignore.  The myriad of disclosures change the Blake’s inner relationships.  This rich discussion occurs in the 2017 Tony Award winning Best Play, “The Humans,” that is at ASU Gammage through Sunday, June 3 and it deserves to be seen.  The play is a real downer but it exposes what plagues so many families as it stresses honesty among peers.

As a rule, plays like “The Humans” don’t work well in the vast confines of ASU Gammage but the expansive set that reveals a less-than-beautiful New York City apartment fills the gigantic stage and the show’s superlative sound system makes every word of dialogue clear and distinctive.  A powerful ensemble of actors portray the family’s various members with exquisite definition so each person’s feelings and how they fit into this family is clear.  Raw emotions are displayed eloquently and the play brings the audience into the family so that you become part of the challenging holiday festivities.

Set in Brigid’s apartment that she inhabits with boyfriend Richard we also meet sister Deirdre, father Erik, mother Aimee, and senile grandmother Fiona.  While Richard masterminds the meal, the other participants go at it revealing this dysfunctional family.  Richard contributes insights into Brigid.  The play is intense but only runs a scant 90 minutes without intermission.  You will leave exhausted after observing the family’s carryings-on.  As difficult as the play is to watch, playwright Stephen Karam sprinkles amusing jokes and comic exchanges throughout the piece to lighten its heavy load of insight.

The expert cast keeps audiences on the edge of their seats.  Richard Thomas is masterful as patriarch Erik, while Therese Plaehn is strong as the typical dominating mother, Aimee.  Daisy Eagan is the in charge, Brigid, and Pamela Reed is her quietly in charge sister, Deirdre.  Lauren Klein plays grandmother Fiona who is always a presence sometimes silent, sometimes bizarrely off-base, but usually the center of attention.  Luis Vega plays the outwardly stable boyfriend Richard.

It’s nice to have a strong play as part of the local Broadway Across America series that otherwise boasts musicals.  Like all of the Broadway Across America local attractions, this play’s one week run is sold-out.  When will the local Broadway series move to two weeks so theatergoers other than subscribers can see Broadway tours?  To inquire about available tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787 or seek tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: A