As I was watching “The Humans,” which opened Thursday night at Ephrata Performing Arts Center, I kept thinking of people I know in my own family. I recognized the relationships between mother and daughters, between two sisters who approach their parents differently and parents who know the insecurities of life.
This does not happen in most other family dramas. As much as I loved “August Osage County,” for example, I couldn’t relate to the family and its extravagant melodramas.
But the Blake family in “The Humans” is real. Brilliantly so.
Playwright Stephen Karam has created a warm, funny play about life today, about the tensions between generations and the hardness of the world and the struggles of the middle class.
And director Bob Breen has brought the show and his cast to wonderful life. The family feels lived in, the humor is rich and deep and as so often happens, that rich humor turns tragic.
Tim Spiese and Elizabeth Pattey are Erik and Deirdre Blake, a working class, Irish-American couple from Scranton.
They’ve come to New York to have Thanksgiving dinner with their daughter, Brigid (Julia Elberfeld), and her boyfriend, Richard (Brian Viera), who have just moved into a new basement apartment in Chinatown.
Brigid’s sister, Aimee (Megan Riggs), has come from Philadelphia and Erik and Deirdre have brought Erik’s mother, Momo (Kath Goodwin), who has dementia and is in a wheelchair. Momo is mostly quiet, but she can have outbursts that make little sense but are fearsome.
Deirdre immediately begins criticizing the apartment in the way only a mother can: It’s in the basement. Their neighbor is noisy. She needs to hang curtains because people can see in.
And this leads to a reminder that she should get married, that she should have faith and go to church. That her life would have more security if she did.
Brigid rolls her eyes a lot and you can tell this is a part of their relationship. Interestingly, later in the play, Brigid starts doing the same thing to her mother. She’s eating too much, drinking too much. Even her work with refugees back in Scranton is criticized.
Erik keeps reminding her that the neighborhood was flooded during Hurricane Sandy, that it’s too close to the site of the World Trade Center, which has special resonance for him.
Aimee, a lawyer in Philadelphia who is losing her job because she’s been sick and just broke up with her long-time girlfriend, has issues with her mother as well, but she serves as a pacifier in the family.
Richard comes from a well-to-do family and is even getting money from a trust fund when he turns 40. He’s a nice guy, but a little removed from the Blake family and its working class world.
The generational differences between the working class parents and their college-educated daughters is artfully played out.
As the night goes on, dinner is served, the wine flows and the family opens up some truths. Nothing violent or shocking, nothing from the lurid past, just real mistakes, human mistakes.
What a cast! There is not a weak link in this family chain.
The two-story set, designed by Douglas Frawley, works well and Michael Wiltraut’s lighting design is excellent.
A few inconsistencies bothered me just a little. At some points, the people on the top level can hear people on the bottom level, but other times they can’t. And the noise coming from the neighbor is not your clumping feet or TV noise, it’s odd electronic beeps and it’s so brief each time, the family’s complaining about it seems overdone.
But this is not only a great play, but a great production. You will laugh — a lot — and you will think about your own life and your own family.
Enjoy your time with the Blakes. I know I did.