Stephen Kazam’s Tony award winning play The Humans, opened Thursday evening at The Ahamanson with most of the original Broadway cast. The Humans is a searing family drama, devastating in its everyday banality, chockfull of powerhouse performances by a simply stellar ensemble of actors. Thanksgiving Day in a dimly lit, basement apartment in Chinatown, a block and a half from World One Trade Center is the setting as Brigid Blake and her boyfriend, Rich, are welcoming the Blake family from Scranton for the holiday. The couple has barely moved in, giving the apartment a somewhat haunted feel, complete with power outages and things that go bump in the night.
The play explores what keeps people up at night; the nightmares that haunt them, the anxieties that weigh on them, through the lens of this working class family full of broken hearts, broken bodies and minds. The simple beauty lies in the ways in which they continue to cope, day by day, sometimes moment by moment. The family matriarch, wheelchair bound grandmother, “Momo”, suffers from dementia and Lauren Klein delivers a devastating performance, unflinching in its realism. The play is loaded with powerful moments, yet it manages to also bring the kind of lighthearted and even belly-laugh comedy that often walks side by side with life’s tragedies.
The cast is a dream, each one of them so fully embodies their characters that it truly is like being a fly on the wall watching this family interact over the course of an evening full of laughter, sadness, revelation and fierce love. I can’t stress enough how funny some of it really is, most hilariously delivered by Jayne Houdyshell as Deirdre Blake. Her mom comments are so spot on that everyone will recognize some aspect of their mothers in every move she makes. Her gratitude toast is perfection.
Cassie Beck’s performance as tough, smart and heartbroken sister Aimee Blake is crushing in its authenticity. There’s a phone call she makes that highlights the brilliance of Kazam’s writing and is exquisitely executed by Beck.
The delightful Sarah Steele plays headstrong youngest daughter, Brigid, who is hosting the dinner with her older boyfriend, Nick, played by Richard Saad (the only member of the ensemble not from the original cast although he understudied the role on Broadway). Steele’s portrayal is charming, razor sharp and works beautifully with Saad’s pitch perfect performance of a man walking the line between impressing his potential in-laws and supporting his girlfriend.
Reed Birney gives a deeply moving performance as family patriarch Erik Blake that simmers with an intensity that feels dangerous.
All the relationship and family dynamics are laid bare during the course of the evening by observing these people walk through the minutiae of setting a table, making a phone call, preparing an ailing loved one’s meal. There is a sense of the relentless daily struggle to survive our bills, our multiple jobs and roles, our health, and yet, we witness their resilience in the way they carry on by the sheer love they have for each other.
The Humans runs at The Ahmanson through July 29, 2018. Tickets are available by calling (213) 972-4400, online at CenterTheatreGroup.org, or by visiting the Center Theatre Group Box Office located at the Ahmanson Theatre. Tickets range from $30 – $130 (ticket prices are subject to change). The Ahmanson Theatre is located at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles, 90012.