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BWW Review: THE HUMANS, Hampstead Theatre

BWW Review: THE HUMANS, Hampstead Theatre

BWW Review: THE HUMANS, Hampstead Theatre Stephen Karam's The Humans won numerous awards during its Off-Broadway and 2016 Broadway runs, picking up four wins out of six nominations at the Tony Awards. Now, the New York cast and director, Joe Mantello, have transferred over to the Hampstead Theatre for its autumn term.

Three generations of the Blake family have descended upon New York to celebrate Thanksgiving with daughter Brigid (Sarah Steele) and her boyfriend Rich (Arian Moayed) in their new Chinatown basement duplex. Parents Erik (Reed Birney) and Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell) have travelled from Scranton, Pennsylvania, along with Erik's mother Momo (Lauren Klein), who is suffering from dementia.

Finally, there's the Blake's eldest daughter Aimee (Cassie Beck). Struggling with an ongoing illness, imminently being fired from her job as a lawyer and trying to cope with the recent breakup from her long-term girlfriend, she valiantly tries to maintain a strong façade in front of her parents.

Everything seems to start off well enough, but as the evening progresses, it's revealed that each member of the gathering is dealing with their own personal problems. All are struggling with job security - Brigid to get work in the field she's so passionate about, taking bar jobs that pay under the table in order to still be able to claim unemployment, while Deirdre, who has worked at the same company since high school, reveals that they hold back on bonuses, pay rises and holidays because she doesn't have a degree.

Erik, meanwhile, is still trying to come to terms with the trauma of 9/11, having taken Aimee to a job interview on that day and watching firemen bring bodies out for hours before finding her safe. He doesn't like Brigid living in New York; he doesn't feel it's safe, and after the atrocities he's witnessed first-hand, who can blame him.

This is a play that will resonate with most people - the children worrying about their parents' health now that they're getting older, a mother who constantly brings up marriage to her unwed daughter and her boyfriend, and both parents and daughters holding back secrets so as not to worry the other. The family dynamic is portrayed perfectly. Karam even has characters overlapping each other with their conversations and it all seems natural and fluid.

Houdyshell is outstanding as the stoic, loving mother. When she overhears her daughters making fun of her, the sting she feels is visible for only a few minutes before she manages to compose herself, putting a front on for the family meal. Birney likewise is superb as the one trying to hold everyone together, even as his own problems seem to overwhelm him, while Beck and Steele also provide strong performances.

The set designed by David Zinn shows a detailed basement duplex: upstairs is the bathroom and bedroom, while on the ground floor is the kitchen and dining area. Between the floors the insulation is visible - almost as if the building has been cut in half - and it all adds to the dingy atmosphere of the apartment.

The sound and lighting from Fitz Patton and Justin Townsend respectively plays a significant role - from the flickering of the lights, to the sound of the noisy neighbour upstairs. A supernatural element is weaved in throughout, until the very end when the stage is left in total darkness.

Both hilarious and achingly sad, there's just something very real and deeply human about Karam's production. Add to that a strong cast and Mantello's direction keeping the pace in this real-time 95 minute piece, and The Humans accurately represents the unwavering love and devotion that holds a family together - even through the most difficult and trying of times.

The Humans at Hampstead Theatre until 13 October.

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner


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