Unicorn Theatre’s “The Humans” is a Thanksgiving family thriller

Thanksgiving is a stressful time for many families. The Unicorn Theatre’s production of “The Humans,” an original play by Stephen Karam, lays these these stressors out in a heartfelt way, transporting the audience to the Blake family Thanksgiving.

The focal point of the play, centers around six fears that every human faces: poverty, criticism, failing health, lost love, old age and death.

“Instead of a thriller about a family, I feel like I’ve… ended up with a kind of family thriller,” Karam said.

The play takes place in Brigid Blake’s new apartment that she shares with her boyfriend, Richard, in Chinatown, New York.

Her parents, Erik and Deirdre, her sister Aimee, and her grandmother, Fiona, (or Momo as she’s called), all come to celebrate the American tradition. But this family is far from traditional.

The play unfolds as a family comedy, but the mood becomes more dramatic as the show continues and the characters are forced to deal with their transgressions, diseases and guilt.

Momo is deep into late-stage Alzheimer’s. Many of the critical scenes in the play were dramatized by Margaret Shelby’s jarring portrayal of the dementia-raddled woman.

“The Humans” is a 90-minute one-act play that keeps your attention from the moment it begins to the time the lights fade out. The dialogue is realistic and scathing, and each actor conveys their emotions perfectly—to the point of near-uncomfortability.

It’s as though the audience has truly entered a dysfunctional family holiday, and anyone who watches the show will find themselves in at least one of the characters.

The true highlights in the acting come from Katie Karel, as Aimee, and Marc Liby, who plays Erik.

Aimee is the grounding point for the family, providing a sarcastic and reasonable approach to most any situation, although she herself is suffering from a chronic disease and a broken heart.

Erik, on the other hand, is the perfect example of a guilt-ridden father and husband whose past discretions have caused immense turmoil, and whose secrets cause a rift in the family that may be too big to mend.

Although some of the plot points are cliched, the story itself is an entirely unique stance on problems in the modern American family unit.

The stage design is stunning, complete with all of the amenities of a 21st-century basement apartment, faulty lights and barred windows included.

The language of the play makes the setting come to life, especially when Brigid’s parents are expressing their concern for her safety.

At one point, Deirdre looks out the window and says to Brigid, “It’s an alley full of cigarette butts,” to which Brigid retorts, “It’s an interior courtyard.”

It’s comedy gold and a true-to-life conversation showing the dynamic between a parent and their child, even when the child is an adult.

The blocking is also one for the books, specifically in the scenes where there is a different character in every room. The audience is forced to pay attention to what’s happening on every corner of the stage, a stylistic choice that makes this production immensely captivating.

From beginning to end, “The Humans” is a wild ride. Every character is full of depth, but also vice. It shows the full range of emotions that a family can collect over time, and it doesn’t fall neatly into a specific genre.

It’s humorous, heart-wrenching and includes horror elements which come to life by the end of the show.

“The Humans” is a must-see. It will resonate with anyone who has ever experienced struggle, grief, or pain, and will leave an impression that will last well after the show has come to a close.

“The Humans” is showing at the Unicorn Theatre from March 6-31. Tickets are $33 or pay what you can on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

amrhd3@mail.umkc.edu

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