‘The Humans’ mines rich ore of family life

Regional premiere of solid new play is on stage at Curious Theatre


“This is the second holiday show in 21 years,” said Chip Walton, Curious Theatre’s artistic director, as he welcomed the Nov. 3 opening-night audience to a performance of “The Humans” by Stephen Karam — a regional premiere. While the scene is a family Thanksgiving dinner, “The Humans” stays on the path of openness to different ways of thinking/living/working — Curious Theatre’s trademark theme.

“The Humans,” a strong new play, the type which Curious consistently chooses to deliver, won the 2016 Tony Award for Best New Play and was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer drama award, setting audience expectations high. With a fine cast and direction by Dee Covington, it is a pleasure to watch.

The spare set, designed by Markas Henry, shows the small, sparsely furnished two-story apartment in Chinatown, New York City, where young musician Brigid Blake (Anastasia Davidson) and her fiancé, Richard Saad (Antonio Amadeo) have recently moved. Furniture is yet to arrive in general … and strange, loud bumps persist from the apartment upstairs, where an older Chinese woman lives.

Readers may be reminded of a first visit to a beloved offspring’s new home and trying so very hard to feel “at home.”

Brigid’s attorney/sister Aimee (Susan McLeod) has arrived and soon, their parents: Dierdre (Anne F. Butler) and Erik (Kevin Hart) appear — a bit frazzled after a trip from their home in Scranton, Pennsylvania. (The playwright grew up there.) With the parents is the grandmother Fiona, “Momo,” who has dementia (Kathryn Gray).

The concept of the conflicted dinner party, where strong opinions clash, is certainly there, with underlying stories about each character woven together and assorted problems pretty much unresolved.

No question, however, about how strongly this family loves one another. Karam’s script is beautifully written and carries the story along through dialogue. The cast is skilled and all the characters carefully crafted.

Brigid, a composer in the making, is working two jobs as a bartender while she seeks a professional path as composer and Richard works at a job, wanting to return to school, while looking forward to a family inheritance sometime soon. Tense Aimee has recently lost her girlfriend/partner and is in pain with ulcerative colitis, but unable to afford needed medical care, unwilling to undergo surgery …

The Irish Catholic parents, of course don’t approve of her lifestyle, nor of Brigid’s. “When are you getting married?” the mom asks Brigid, more than once …

Money for Momo to move into assisted living isn’t available either — Erik has worked in maintenance at St. Paul’s school for years and doesn’t have savings, nor does Dierdre, who has an office job. During the play, Gray’s Momo sleeps a lot, babbles some and perks up to participate in a family prayer — until near the end … Nicely portrayed by Gray, a veteran local actor, educator and frequent dialogue coach, who keeps a lid on it.

Hart, as father Erik, often dominates a scene. On edge, in his first visit to New York City since 9/11, he tends to discount his daughters’ opinions — and/or fails to understand them. I found myself getting angry with him — which is exactly the desired response.

And the widely experienced Butler, as Dierdre, tries to hold things together, relying on her faith to make things right. She’s the familial glue … The legendary mother figure — sure she’s right, not willing to accept her daughters’ choices, but loving them. Strong delivery here.

I felt that later in the 90-minute play, actors were shouting at each other fairly consistently, which diluted the effectiveness of the well-crafted dialogue — we wondered about director Dee Covington’s reasoning for that increased noise level, especially when each cast member was so skilled at expressing Karam’s words and feelings.

The ending, by contrast, is quiet and spooky! The air leaves the room …

If you go:

“The Humans” runs through Dec. 22 at Curious Theatre, 1080 Acoma St., in Denver’s Golden Triangle. Performances: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays (Thanksgiving excepted); 2 p.m. Sundays. Adequate free parking. Tickets: Curioustheatre.com, 303-623-0524.


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