The Humans (The Helen Hayes Theatre)

How prescient to have booked tickets to The Humans before the recent Tony Awards ceremony. After seeing the production, it is understandable why it won the Tony Award for Best Play of the Year, and pulled in three more awards out of a total of six nominations.

Running a crisp 95 minutes without break, the six person cast fully inhabits the characters. At once both a slice of life and then a larger unfolding of human nature and life for many in America, The Humans is excellent.

Joe Montello is a sterling director with an amazing pedigree. Here he keeps the audience riveted with natural performances from the cast. The brilliant script by Stephen Karam has moments of levity which provide a comfortable ebb and flow to the emotional landscape unfolding.

The plot seems initially simple; a family that has grown up in Scranton has reassembled in lower Manhattan for Thanksgiving dinner. One daughter has moved in with her boyfriend, and the parents have grudgingly accepted the lack of matrimony. Each character has issues that are revealed and processed by the others during the meal. My favorite character was the father, superbly played by Reed Birney (and recently seen in House of Cards). Birney has an uncanny ability to simultaneously reveal and camouflage his inner thoughts, likely a reason for his Tony for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role. The sisters (Cassie Beck and Sarah Steele) interact very well. Their mother (Jayne Houdyshell) carries a lot of emotional baggage balancing issues related to her deteriorating mother-in-law (Lauren Klein), and multi-faceted relationships with her husband and daughters. Houdyshell deserved her Tony for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role. Counterbalancing the family dynamics is the boyfriend (Arian Moayed).

The scenic design by David Zinn effectively induces the cramped yet two floor apartment into which the couple has just moved. Zinn brought home the Tony for Best Scenic Design. Deft touches, such as plastic tableware, evince the low budget circumstances of the young couple. Sound designer Fitz Patton has a critical role, as does lighting designer Justin Townsend. Both designers are critical in evoking the noise and growing darkness of the family’s circumstances.

(L-R) Reed Birney, Sarah Steele, Jayne Houdyshell, and Arian Moayed in Stephen Karam's The Humans. Photo by: Brigitte Lacombe

(L-R) Reed Birney, Sarah Steele, Jayne Houdyshell, and Arian Moayed in Stephen Karam’s The Humans. Photo by: Brigitte Lacombe

The list of producers includes the ubiquitous Scott Rudin, whom I heard in a podcast a couple weeks ago referring to The Humans as the most exciting thing on Broadway. It was not hyperbole.

Many in the audience were slow to depart the theater after the house lights were raised; the searing excellence of the production undoubtedly gave pause for many thoughts.


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment and technology scene for many years. He has written for Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and once upon a time won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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