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Review: THE HUMANS at Wilbury Theatre Group

Review: THE HUMANS at Wilbury Theatre Group

November is the perfect time for this Tony Award winning play by Stephen Karam, set on Thanksgiving day.

On its surface, Stephen Karam's play, THE HUMANS, is about an ordinary Irish-American family coming together for Thanksgiving dinner. The younger daughter, Brigid Blake (Jessie March), has recently moved into an apartment with her boyfriend, Richard (Dave Rabinow), in New York City's Chinatown. Her parents, Erik (Jim O'Brien) and Deidre (Jeanine Kane) drive in from Scranton, Pennsylvania, along with their older daughter, Aimee (Rachel Dulude) and Erik's mother, affectionately referred to as "Momo" (Carol Varden) who is deeply beset with Alzheimer's disease.

At first there is the type of "happy to see you" small chat that anyone will find familiar - about the new apartment, about the health of relatives, about jobs. But as their time together continues, both the conversation, or lack of it, begins to show the cracks in this all-American family - familial, generational, and societal. By the end, following a confession that pulls the rug out from underneath almost everyone, we're left pondering how well anyone really knows the people we are theoretically closest to. How much of what we see, even amongst the people who supposedly know us the best, is an act?

A successful production of The Humans relies on the strength of a few different factors, the cast being one of them. Every single actor on-stage at the Wilbury, directed by the company's artistic director Josh Short, is top-notch in their role. Jim O'Brien is outstanding as Erik Blake. He starts the show seeming every bit the sitcom-perfect father, but as the play progresses, the subtle moments when he is alone, or with only his wife, belie something darker festering under the surface. As Deidre Blake, Jeanine Kane also exudes the energy of a woman doing her best to appear as though everything is fine, and that she just wants her daughters to be happy. But every once in awhile, the snappiness of her line delivery and her physical performance during the moments she is alone, speak volumes.

Jessie March as Brigid Blake and Rachel Dulude as Aimee Blake, encapsulate people of their generation - from dealing with underemployment to chronic illness, and both actors are grounded in their roles. Dave Rabinow is also solid as Brigid's boyfriend Rich, with all the awkwardness that can accompany meeting one's significant other's parents for the first time. It's also worth mentioning that despite then tense undercurrent throughout the show, there are also moments that are very funny, across the cast.

A special mention must also be given to Carol Varden, who portrays Momo. While the character is not always in the midst of the action, when she is, she offers an accurate and heartbreaking portrayal of a person in late-stage Alzheimer's disease.

The two-level apartment in which the action takes place - designed by Monica Shinn and making good use of the Wilbury's malleable space - is very much the picture of a place recently moved into, with cardboard boxes everywhere and bare walls. Each level is broken up into a few different "rooms," which allows for the physical separation each person seeks at different times. The apartment, especially when combined with fantastic light and sound design by Andy Russ, it is practically its own character, adding punctuation to the action happening within.

Be sure to catch The Humans at Wilbury Theatre Group's dynamic space before it ends December 11th. The premise may sound straightforward, but I promise you won't be able to take your eyes off the stage.

The Humans by Stephen Karam, directed by Josh Short, runs through December 11th at the Wilbury Theatre Group, 475 Valley Street, Providence, RI, inside the WaterFire Arts Center. To buy tickets, go to or call 401-400-7100.

Pictured: THE HUMANS at Wilbury Theatre Group; photo by Erin X. Smithers.

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From This Author - Erica Cataldi-Roberts

A life-long Rhode Islander, Erica has been an avid theatre-goer since being taken to children's shows at the Warwick Musical Theatre. She is also an academic librarian in Boston, an occasional ... (read more about this author)

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