It was Leo Tolstoy who said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Since the financial meltdown of 2008, the United States has gained a great many more unhappy families–a fact not lost on contemporary playwright Stephen Karam, whose Pulitzer Prize Finalist play The Humans is now onstage at Artists Repertory Theatre.
The play revolves around the Blakes, a working-class family from Scranton, Pennsylvania, on that most angst-ridden of holidays, Thanksgiving. Brigid Blake (Quinlan Fitzgerald) has moved into an apartment in Manhattan’s Chinatown with her boyfriend, Richard (John San Nicolas). Her parents Eric (Robert Pescovitz) and Deirdre Blake (Luisa Sermol) and her sister Aimee (Val Landrum) arrive, along with Eric’s mother Momo (Vana O’Brien) to enjoy a family holiday meal and see the apartment.
The kvetching starts immediately. Deirdre is upset that her daughter’s both have fled Scranton–Aimee to become a high-flying attorney in Philadelphia, and Brigid to pursue a music career in New York City. Neither are married, and there are no grandchildren. The renters upstairs sound like they’re dropping bombs, and there are bathroom issues. Momo has Alzheimer’s and is completely out of it. And then, those unknowns that have been hidden because of family separation start becoming known.
With Eric and Deirdre nearing retirement, and their daughters pursuing careers of their own, this should be a holiday to relax, catch up, and enjoy each other. But in lives that seldom go as planned, other forces–the type of forces we all know well from the headlines, and from our own lives–have intervened into the Blakes’s lives.
Karam maneuvers the audience through some of the Sandwich Generation’s worst nightmares. But it is more than that. The Humans tells the story of a family caught in the cross hairs, their Thanksgiving traditions juxtaposed in tragi-comic and terrifying accuracy with a world they no longer recognize.
Artist Repertory’s Artistic Director Damaso Rodriguez directs The Humans, which won the Tony Award for Best Play in 2016. Says Rodriguez, who saw the play during its Broadway run, “I marveled at how Karam had made a living document of our early 21st Century American experience in the same way that Clifford Odets did of the 1930s and Arthur Miller of the 1940s and 1950s.”
The Humans runs through December 17 at Artists Rep.