Fresh Eyes on THE HUMANS, 5th Installment
THE HUMANS opens tonight! As always, we at Artists Rep are grateful to our Fresh Eyes volunteers – Garrett Brown and Scott Dunn – for sharing their thoughts on the production as it developed. They’ve been with us from the first read through, to staging rehearsals, through technical rehearsals, and finally with preview audiences. We appreciate all the time and thoughtful observation that they have given to this process, and we hope that you have also enjoyed their ‘fly on the wall’ view of THE HUMANS.
In the evening program for THE HUMANS at Artist Repertory Theatre, director Dámaso Rodriguez notes that the play occupies a special place in Broadway history. He notes that “The Humans” was a long running, award winning play without a celebrity cast which is significant to note. However, he also notes that there was not a “spectacle” to draw the audience in: just an average family, sitting down for a meal in New York.
Sure, THE HUMANS does not have a “spectacle” like theatre audiences might be used to. It doesn’t utilize puppetry like “Avenue Q” or “The Lion King”, or subvert musical genres like “Hamilton”. It didn’t use a celebrity or stunt casting to draw big crowd. In fact, “The Humans” is at first glance is very familiar to a theatre going audience: a group of people are packed in a room together, and the plot develops through conversation.
But what makes THE HUMANS not a spectacle? Do we believe our own lives to be so mundane and boring, so tedious that entertainment has to be 100% escapist to be counted as a true spectacle? Or has Stephen Karam done something so extraordinary by crafting a world that is so reflective of everyday life that the spectacle is that the audience cannot tell the difference between watching a real life family on stage and actors? After watching the preview of Artist Repertory’s version of THE HUMANS the answer this clearly the latter.
Everyone knows a Blake family, or they are the Blake family themselves. Many families are struggling still post-recession and even if one family just has one issue (like hospital bills, or unemployment) it can wreck them and cause emotional harm. Even if they barely floated, I knew families growing up that still survived. Perhaps that is the real spectacle for people? They want to see a family like the Blakes play out their issues and confront their problems. But still know that they will always value family. For the audience, it is cathartic.
I highly recommend THE HUMANS for everyone, but especially for millennial audiences. For people finding their way in the world, THE HUMANS helps confront a reality that many of us are facing today. Many of us face enormous debt, trying to understand romantic/family relationships, expectations of family and society that we feel might not line up with our own, and feelings of inadequacy. THE HUMANS explores this wonderfully.
Lay down your fears and raise your glass
May peace and joy be with you all.
Fears, sadly, aren’t so easy to put down. Anxieties about living in the modern world do not dissipate no matter how many glasses we raise or how high. No matter how high we might try to reach, we rarely rise as far from the bottom as we might think.
Dontcha think it should cost less to be alive?
We see it in our country and throughout the world. Wealth gaps become increasingly disparate. For those who live on the precipice, even for those who feel they tenuously have a sure footing, the bottom can drop out from underneath of us at any moment. The metaphor is depicted in the opening moments of the play when the patriarch of the family, Erik, tests the floor of his daughter’s New York apartment to ensure not only its stability but perhaps also his own.
It was mentioned, many weeks ago, at the first read-thru and design presentation that the play was very much of our time. The play connects with us as it drops us in a setting we find familiar and unsettling: a family Thanksgiving, and the unveiling of a new home for a new relationship. But furthermore, the play paints the landscape of our time within the aftermath of the Great Recession and stock market collapse, and within the current changes of gentrification and increasing economic disparity. A world we recognize. And a world we don’t. It’s a sentiment we hear in our own homes and . A new world that has happened, in some cases, rapidly and recently. Entire neighborhoods facelifted. New apartment towers where there were none before. “Used to be a few years ago you could see all the way down …” All the way down is not down so all the way as it was before.
The audience may share in these sentiments though they aren’t easily expressed or observed during a performance. Laughter is shared abundantly. Glances and whispers are exchanged between audience members when a character says something that sparks a shared memory or family experience. The characters are melodies that overlap and compete throughout the play. We laugh, shudder, wince, hold our breath; our hearts skip a beat; we sink into our chairs, shuffle, or cringe; when we hear melodies we recognize – variations on a theme we remember from our own lives that are all too familiar.
The play is on its feet now. I will see it once more as it extends deep into the run. It is always fascinating to note how a play matures over the course of its performances. I won’t hope to find answers for what lies ahead for the Blake family. A glimmer of hope perhaps? A whiff of optimism? A favorable omen? Isn’t that what we hope for this time of year anyways? The gathering of family in celebration of life and the joy and support of spending time with each other. Or at the very least that the usual suspects will behave according to their character, which for this moment will make it the worst family gathering on record, but in years hence it will come to be known as the best family gathering on record.
See the show before it closes. I think it’s a beautiful play. Enjoy the holiday season. Lay down your fears and raise your glass; may peace and joy be with you all.