Friday, January 17, 2020

“The Humans”: An Inside Peek Of The American Family At Work.


Stephen Karam’s drama “The Humans”, 2016 recipient of The Tony Award for Best Play is currently showing at The San Diego Repertory Theatre downtown on the Lyceum Stage through Feb 2nd.  

I’ve said it in jest and in truth that I wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall just to see what goes on behind closed doors in X Y or Z’s house. 

Clockwise: Brian Mackey, Kate Rose Reynolds, Jeffrey Meek, Rosina Reynolds and Elizabeth Dennhey
Just recently I had that opportunity to look in on the Blake Family on this one Thanksgiving Day. The Blake’s, Erik (Jeffrey Meek is most convincing) Aimee (Amanda Sitton), Brigid (Kate Rose Reynolds), Deirdre (Elizabeth Dennehy) and Fiona or Momo (Rosina Reynolds) are congregating in Richard (Brian Mackey) and Brigid’s new street level flat located in a not so pretty, almost eerie section of New York’s Chinatown. “But”, she prides, “we even have a window looking out on to the street…well alley.”

The two story flat (the playwright refers to it as a ‘shabby apartment’) designed by Giulo Perrone makes room for easy flow of traffic if you don’t count climbing up a steel winding staircase that opens to the larger of the two rooms. But there are bumps and bangs (Melanie Chen Cole) that can be heard and felt from the upstairs apartment that are blown off by Brigid and Richard as belonging to their ‘Chinese’ neighbor above them. They come from out of the blue and nearly scared the bejeasus out of me when I first heard one.  
Kate Rose Reynolds, Elizabeth Dennehy, Amanda Sitton and Jeffery Meek with Rosina Reynolds.
The one bathroom and other bedroom are located upstairs as well with a recliner and boxed “stuff” waiting to be put away. The kitchen and eating area are down stairs with Richard as the designated cook. He and Brigid make a good couple, but Deidre would rather see them married rather than just living together.

It’s often been said that when we ask about this one or that one, we usually end up with TMI. But in the scheme of things less is not better in “The Humans” because this family, like so many others whom some might call Upper middle-Middle class living out the American Dream, has a lot to say.

The Blake's lives are so intertwined and even though Erik and Deidre are empty nesters, the family picks up where they last left off: talking over one another oft times even dismissing another’s thoughts or putting someone down, having a family moment, looking after a beloved elderly and distant grandmother, even ganging up on one or another, or trying to be heard and understood is part of the family dynamic.
Kate Rose Reynolds and Brian Mackey
Any one of us in this complicated tribe we call the human race can relate.  They do it without skipping a beat. It is truly an ensemble piece where everyone takes part and every family member is important.

Proud and loving remembrances laced with family humor and real life situations push this dramedy, beautifully and sensitively directed by associate artistic director Todd Salovey, in a 90 minute oft time sit -com, oft time edging on the tragic, will have you chuckling and teary eyed at the same time. Most however will confess these holiday gatherings cause more stress among family members that at any other time.  

The Blake family hails from Scranton, Pa. They would now fit into the middle or lower class, (used to be solid middle class) surviving from paycheck to paycheck category.

Erik who has been a high school maintenance man for twenty-eight years, alludes to the fact that he and Deirdre are planning to fix up a second summer house and reminds Brigid that, but for the fact that she chose not to go to a state school she wouldn’t be in debt and bartending nights. Brigid’s (the younger Ms. Reynolds is a natural) constant kvetching about having to work bartending is also a topic she and Erik banter over during the course of the visit. 

Amanda Sitton and Kate Rose Reynolds
Deirdre is an office manager making less than the two new hires, in their twenties, who are making five times her salary. She too has had the same job for forty years. Daughter Aimee has a law degree and is on the verge of not becoming a partner in the firm that spells ‘time to move on’. Both complain of being discriminated. Both may be right.

Aimee is also suffering from colitis and just broke up with her long time girlfriend. Still haunting Dad Erik is the fact that she just escaped, by minutes, being in the Twin Towers in the wake of the 911tragedy. His dreams of losing his daughter trouble him causing him to have haunting dreams at night. She has what my tribe would call tsuris.

And wheelchair bound Momo; well she’s there somewhere. She does have her lucid moments and on one occasion even remembered the words to a favorite tune this proud Irish family always sang at past Thanksgiving gatherings.

It isn’t often that an actor is on stage for an entire production, stares out at the audience and once in a while utters indistinguishable gibberish, and yet is so felt as part of this family dynamic. Ms. Reynolds is one of San Diego’s premiere actors. Her showing up as the wheelchair bound former matriarch, (a lost to the world Momo) while continuing to give a stellar performance, is a credit to her professionalism.

While it was difficult watching her in that role, the humanity, pampering, inclusion and attention she receives from her family in this production of “The Humans” proves that all is not lost in this current reign of total disrespect for humanity  (and other humans) from those who should know better

Karam’s “The Humans” paints a pretty accurate picture of everyday folks who would love to live the dream, but don’t have the means, lost their way or blew their chances to do so.

It’s so human it hurts. It pulses with off the wall humor from ‘cockroaches to kale’, so much so that if you are not used to the rhythms of these family subtleties, you will miss them. I especially understood Deirdre’s frustrations to her Points on Weight Watchers if she had chips and dip appetizers.

 I couldn’t help myself from almost hearing my own cries about WW points. And in my first apartment in the outskirts of Boston, we, my husband and I, also had cockroaches that my super called beetle bugs. So much for those comparisons!

Conversations run back and fourth in layered and painful admissions that up until now have put the family on a superficial plateau and are blurted out over the course of the afternoon/evening visit. 

Confessions, losses, new -found awakenings and truths now become out loud facts as when a hurt and wounded Aimee confesses that she and her long time girlfriend split and her disease is getting to the point that surgery is needed and she has no insurance. Amanda Sitton, a local favorite, as most of the ensemble is, is so credible that yours truly felt her hurt and loss.
Kate Rose Reynolds and Jeffrey Meek
Jeffrey Meek’s Erik and Elizabeth Dennehy’s Deidre are the yin to the other’s yang. Together they make a whole; supporting, lifting up, dreaming the same dreams, hurting the same hurts, bringing their all that feels right and that that doesn’t, into focus knowing that some in the audience might have walked in their shoes. 

Erik finally shows up and has the guts to tell his family that they lost their lake house, his job and pension (among other things) and would have to downsize the family home as well. He has nightmares (he calls them dreams) going back to the 9/11 incident that haunt him and he can’t seem to dodge them. Perhaps by sharing them with Richard, who also has weird dreams, his might be eased.

The most eerie of scenes as the play ends has Erik standing at the doorway in a haze of mist (small glitch in the lighting caught everyone off guard, Chris Rynne), and after he has a few mishaps gathering up the family’s last belongings and everyone heads for the car, we don’t know exactly what he is thinking or will do.

“Lights”!
Jeffrey Meek
The ending is bit ambiguous leaving us virtually in the dark, as is Erik. What happens next in his life is up for conversation. But fear not we, as humans are resilient and survival is our highest virtue.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Feb.2nd
Organization: San Diego Repertory Theatre
Phone: 619-544-1000
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where: 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown San Diego
Ticket Prices: Start at $25.00
Web: sdrep.org
Venue: Lyceum Space
Photo Credit: Jim Carmody

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