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Review Roundup: Stephen Karam's THE HUMANS Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!


The Broadway production of Stephen Karam's much-raved-about new play, The Humans, opens tonight, February 18, 2016. Directed by Tony Award winner Joe Mantello and featuring its entire acclaimed off-Broadway cast, The Humans plays performances at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre (240 West 44th Street).

The ensemble cast, all of whom were featured in the off-Broadway production at Roundabout Theatre Company, includes Cassie Beck ( Aimee), Reed Birney (Erik), Jayne Houdyshell (Deirdre) Lauren Klein (Fiona "Momo" Blake), Arian Moayed (Richard) and Sarah Steele (Brigid).

Breaking with tradition, Erik Blake (Birney) has brought his Pennsylvania family to celebrate Thanksgiving at his daughter's apartment in lower Manhattan. As darkness falls outside the ramshackle pre-war duplex, and eerie things start to go bump in the night, the Blake clan's deepest fears and greatest follies are laid bare. Our modern age of anxiety is keenly observed, with humor and compassion, in this new American classic.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: In his fresh, funny and chilling take on the genre, The Humans...playwright Stephen Karam believably adds elements of an old-fashioned Irish ghost story to the mix...Director Joe Mantello's exemplary ensemble is granted a wonderfully detailed and realistic two-level set by David Zinn, allowing for simultaneous action on both floors. Fitz Patton's sound design perfectly replicates the chorus of noises from city living and orchestrates them into a nightmarish soundscape. At one point Richard, more or less the observer of the gathering, describes a comic book series about a race of monsters who live in fear of humans. They may have a point. Stephen Karam sure does.

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: The finest new play of the Broadway season so far -- by a long shot -- Mr. Karam's drama has been beautifully transferred from Off Broadway...with the production's prized virtues intact: a peerless cast, whose members all inhabit their characters as if they've been living in their itchy skins forever; direction from Joe Mantello that stealthily navigates the play's delicate shifts, from witty domestic comedy to painful conflict, and from there to something resembling a goose-pimply chiller; and a set, designed by David Zinn, that perfectly captures the unsettled atmosphere the writing so deftly establishes.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: A sickening thud is the first thing you hear at Stephen Karam's powerful Broadway debut "The Humans." It's an unexplained noise, and unsettling. There are clearly unseen forces at work here. The dark comedy opened Thursday at the Helen Hayes Theatre with a terrific cast and an unsentimental look at the way we live today - anxiety-ridden, having little control over our environment or bodies, forever stretched and always a step from the abyss. It is an absolute triumph.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Each and every character is enormously appealing, and Karam takes care to reveal their guarded secrets with great tenderness, just as Mantello's directorial hand gently advances the play from comedy to tragedy. The revelations of weakness in this close-knit family are not entirely unexpected -- lost loves, failed jobs, depression, money troubles, health problems, unpardonable misjudgments and the overwhelming pain of grief and regret. The big question, of course, is whether the Blakes can survive after this emotional night. Karam doesn't make it easy for them -- or us -- and the ambiguous ending seems to tilt toward darkness. But don't bet on it.

Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: ...not every show manages a Broadway transfer with equal grace, and I wondered if the some of the qualities that made it special Off Broadway -- the sharpness of Joe Mantello's staging, the ease of the ensemble acting, the audience's shared awareness of being in the dark -- could survive a transfer to a larger theater. I needn't have worried. The Humans is just as funny, just as moving and just as sneakily unsettling in its new Broadway incarnation, and retains its essential intimacy...Seeing the play a second time, and knowing some of its secrets, makes it even more compelling; you're more alert to what some of the characters aren't saying.

Linda Winer, Newsday: There is so much love, dread, tenderness and brutality in "The Humans" that it is hard to believe just 90 minutes pass through Stephen Karam's deeply-felt family tragicomedy thriller...The move to a larger showcase feels right, enlarging the impact without losing the nuances of light and dark...On second viewing, the retelling of bad dreams now seems woven into a richer psychological carpet and the few plot threads that seemed undeveloped now feel beautifully wrought...Last season, there was talk about initiating a new Tony category that would honor an acting ensemble instead of singling out individuals. If ever a cast deserved an award for sublime ensemble interdependence, this is it.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: It could certainly be argued that this home is haunted, but not by the usual suspects that pop up in horror flicks and scary campfire tales. As the Blakes gather for Thanksgiving dinner, along with Brigid's boyfriend and housemate, they are set upon, slowly but steadily, by frustrated and forsaken dreams and failed expectations...Karam...isn't interested in a polemic. Humans rather considers the trials its highly imperfect subjects face in a highly imperfect world, and resolves, without ever approaching sentimentality, that love is nonetheless resilient.

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: Our calendars are teasing spring, but it's still Thanksgiving in the Chinatown duplex Brigid Blake shares with boyfriend Richard in "The Humans," Stephen Karam's eloquent and wholly relatable modern family drama...Sensitively staged by Joe Mantello...Beck, too, stands out, blending the causticness brought by illness with an alarmingly healthy sense of humor about Aimee's predicament...Karam paints such a dynamic portrait of real life that I could only sit and absorb the insecurities and frailties batted around on stage. "The Humans" is monumentally affecting, and something for which theatergoers should be oh-so-very thankful.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Playwright Stephen Karam takes this familiar, if shop-worn, dramatic framework and transforms it into a 95-minute work that is fresh, funny, piercing and perceptive...Karam has an eye for detail on a near-cellular level, an ear for authentic dialogue and a superlative ability to balance laughter and sorrow. There's a lot of both here...Joe Mantello's direction is smart and subtle, making excellent use of the bi-level stage. In an ensemble of all aces, a few actors stand out. Beck, a wonderful rising star, nails the hapless Aimee's black humor. Houdyshell tickles and stings as an undervalued wife and mother. Birney anchors everything as a middle-class Everyman terrified of losing what he loves.

Matt Windman, AM New York: Stephen Karam's family drama "The Humans" unapologetically depressing and lacking in narrative. Its pretentious and generic title is also a turnoff. Nevertheless, it makes for a compelling and often terrifying character portrait...there isn't much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, and none of the problems are resolved or ameliorated by the play's end..."The Humans" is not as appealing as Karam's terrific comedic dramas ("Speech & Debate," "Sons of the Prophet"), but Houdyshell's razor-sharp delivery of her character's witty responses earns laughs. Under the direction of Joe Mantello...the actors deliver vulnerable, truthful performances while also handling simultaneous action on the two-story set, overlapping dialogue and many silent pauses.

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: A smart decision was made to hold on to the exquisitely matched acting ensemble and also the play's, well, human scale by re-mounting it in the Helen Hayes, the smallest Tony-eligible house. As a result, the play retains its remarkable power as a tale of sorrows veined with silver threads of humor...As the evening moves like nature from light into darkness, Karam and his incomparable director Joe Mantello...take this first-class ensemble and us interlopers along a journey that's part family drama and thriller...Although the cast couldn't be bettered (and the standout remains the wildly gifted Steele), I thought they were still settling into the rhythms of a larger performance at the critics' preview I attended...I can only reiterate what I wrote earlier, that The Humans is tremendously exciting theater, and I remain convinced that you won't see a better play this season.

Jesse Green, Vulture: Would The Humans be so effective if its 95 minutes of 100-proof family drama took place in a neat little doorman condo? I doubt it: Location is destiny. With its irrational layout and strange, sickening noises, the apartment, as the stage directions put it, is "effortlessly uncanny," as is the play itself....It is still the most, well, human play I've ever seen about fear and disappointment and the attachments that transcend them...Contrary to the prevailing wisdom about intimate plays, transferring The Humans has done nothing to diminish its effectiveness. In seems even tighter and sharper than it did...To me the performances, all already excellent, now seem both more natural and more detailed: New beats have been found within old ones, resulting in a fractal complexity of small behavior that more nearly approximates the smooth skin of reality.

Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly: Thanks to Karam's script and the ensemble's performances, every slight, every shared memory, and every knowing glance feels utterly lived in. The brilliant direction by Joe Mantello helps hugely with believability as well -- the movement of the actors throughout the David Zinn's two-floor set, which we look in on like a dollhouse no one would want, is wonderfully intricate yet fluid...Some moments are absolutely devastating -- Reid Birney, as the hollowed-out father prone to thousand-yard stares, is the standout of the cast -- but it's unfair to label the play as simply "depressing," because it's depressing in the way life is depressing and hilarious in the way life is hilarious...Karam's transcendently mundane play is a reminder that family dinner dramas can still be surprising -- and they doesn't need ghosts or things that go bump in the night to achieve that. Real life is scary enough. A-

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: Most great American dramas of familial anguish and conflict are driven by outrageous individual behavior. But what distinguishes Stephen Karam's inestimably kind, rich and beautiful new play "The Humans" not that Karam lacks awareness of human failings. On the contrary, his characters wear their flaws on their sleeves. But while this extraordinarily talented young writer has an innate sense of dramatic tension and theatricality, he also has a rare understanding that you do not need to pop pills or hit the liquor cabinet for tragedy to bang persistently on your door...Mantello has cast a plethora of superb ensemble actors..."The Humans" is written without excessive sentiment but also without condescension, and Mantello and his cast avoid both those qualities.

Peter Marks, The Washington Post: In a mere 95 minutes, the playwright -- bolstered by a whip-smart director, Joe Mantello, and pitch-perfect cast of six -- delves into the dynamics of this clan with a gentleness that feels like compassion and a scrupulousness that borders on the forensic...If anything, the levels of tension and humor in "The Humans" have been skillfully ratcheted up since the play's transfer to Broadway from Roundabout Theater Company's Laura Pels Theatre, where it had its off-Broadway New York debut last fall. The actors, encouraged by Mantello, isolate all of the warm and sore spots that unify and divide the Blakes, the affections and fissures that drive them into an ever-changing pattern of alliances.

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: The a funny, mournful, richly detailed and deeply humane study of a beleaguered family celebrating Thanksgiving dinner in a tumbledown Chinatown apartment...Karam is a writer in the Chekhovian mode and watching The Humans may put one in mind of Chekhov's observation that while people's happiness is being created and destroyed, all they can really do is to go on eating their dinners...Karam's particular that he is less interested in the catastrophes that afflict us than in how we cope with them, gracefully and awkwardly. To pile on so much suffering would seem cruel in another playwright, but Karam is a profoundly compassionate writer. He shows us the bravery and tenderness of people trying -- and sometimes failing -- to get on with their lives.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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