What's it about?
The Humans takes place over the course of an evening in a creaky Manhattan apartment. It follows the Thanksgiving dinner of the Blake family from pre-dinner drinks to mid-dinner jokes to some post-dinner revelations. At its core, the play is about family. It is about love for one another, about personal struggles, and acceptance.
What'd I experience?
As far as titles of plays go, calling a play The Humans is the equivalent of tagging an Instagram post with #life. Take away the imagery, one is left with only their imagination to figure out what such ambiguous and overarching labels mean - which is what I did as I made my way through the zombie-like crowds of Times Square to get to the Laura Pels Theatre.
After picking up my ticket at the box office, I was informed that I was a whole hour early for the show. Once the house opened and audience members were allowed inside, I looked at my ticket and found my seat with very little trouble - it was in the middle of the very first row, just steps from the stage.
With the theatre quickly filling up, I sat down and looked around - as I always do - at the other audience members. I noted a number of observations about the space in relation to myself. For one, I realized I was quite likely to be the only person under the age of twenty. I was definitely the only person under 50 in my row. But this didn't really bother me. All that mattered now was waiting for the theatre to go dark so that I could be a voyeur in another world.
The premise of the play is that the Blakes of small-town Pennsylvania, including mom, dad, grandma, and older daughter Aimee, have just arrived to their younger daughter Brigid and her boyfriend Richard’s new Chinatown apartment for Thanksgiving dinner.
Much of the humor of this show is provided by this stereotypical New York City apartment. Dad can’t check the score of the football game on his phone unless he leans against a window. Mom is disappointed that the apartment’s only view is of an alleyway – a disappointment not abated when her daughter informs her, in New York City real estate terms, that it is actually “an interior courtyard, Mom.” Another line that struck me was Dad’s comment about millennials who are unemployed, broke, and generally unhappy, but follow trends such as juicing: “if you’re so miserable, why are you trying to live forever?”
But that’s about all the humor I found in the play. After the first few scenes, shit got serious. My eyes stayed glued to the stage as the Blake family explored or skirted around issues of aging, disease, religion, marriage, and memory. I was frequently reminded of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night as I watched the Blakes bring each other to the verge of tears one moment and hold each other close the next.
What I really liked about the play was that I could never pin it down as being from a particular character's perspective. Every character got to tell their story, removed from that of the family’s. I got the feeling that every viewer could really choose their own main character. I found myself identifying most with Brigid, perhaps because she is young, not very tall, and sometimes speaks to her parents insensitively though she does not mean to. In her I saw not only the optimistic, well-meaning side of myself, but also the disappointed and disappointing sides of myself.
The story ends as the night does, after Dad, the only one on stage, goes through a mysterious door and the door shuts behind him on its own. In retrospect, I wasn’t quite as confused by this ending as I should have been. This was not a story about the paranormal – or was it? Had I missed some key detail branding it as such? I don’t know. All I know is that when the theatre went dark for the second time and actors took their bow, all I wanted to do was go home to my own family.