The Humans, with a running time of 100 minutes (and observing Aristotle’s unities), is a one act play written by Stephen Karam which won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Play. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, with the committee noting the work is ‘a profoundly affecting drama that sketches the psychological and emotional contours of an average American family.’
The members of this Irish-American family, the Blakes, come together for Thanksgiving in the rundown New York apartment of Brigid Blake, an out of work musician, and her boyfriend Richard, who has recovered from a bout of depression in his thirties and is looking forward to joining the workforce as a social worker.
Aimee, sister to Brigid, is a lawyer with an intestinal ailment and their financially troubled parents Erik and Deirdre arrive with Erik’s mother ‘Momo’, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
This is a play about a collection of troubled characters who gather to commiserate, support one another, and enact some heart warming and idiosyncratic traditions. Financial woes, crushed dreams, lost loves, dementia, and an unexpected (almost supernatural) turn combine into a mighty wave of somewhat frustrated catharsis which nevertheless leaves you cleansed and with the feeling of having participated in a holy ritual.
It made me reflect on the way stoicism can sometimes appear divine. The family wash their hands in the redemptive water (fire) of familial piety and love. The entire play is infused with a holy feeling, with Mother Mary making an appearance in the form of a statue at one point. The feeling is perhaps generated by each character’s martyrdom to a greater cause, whether it be, inter alia, financial security or artistic expression.
The performances are uniformly excellent. Eloise Snape is typically brilliant, guiding us over difficult terrain with humour and grace. Diana McLean delivers an astonishing portrayal of a woman with dementia: It’s one of those rare moments when it’s hard to believe the character isn’t a real person.
There is a scene in which she becomes agitated that is simultaneously harrowing and beautiful. Her dementia looms over the family dinner as a reminder that however difficult their lives may be, things can get worse. Surprisingly, this knowledge appears to act as a salve, or balm to their hurt minds.
This show has been mounted by MopHead Productions, the brainchild of actors Stephen Multari and Eloise Snape, a company which first came together in 2013 with their production of Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles. They have garnered serious praise from critics and attracted plenty of attention from the major awards: A company to watch.
Director Anthea Williams (winner of the 2017 Sydney Theatre Award for Direction) works wonders here with what I assume was a small budget. It’s hard to imagine independent theatre reaching a higher standard. With ticket prices comparable to that of a movie, it would be a shame to miss out.
Old Fitz Theatre, 129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo
Performance: Thursday 13 September 2018 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 6 October 2018
Information and Bookings: www.redlineproductions.com.au
Image: The Humans (supplied)
Review: Oliver Wakelin