Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Brigid Blake (Daisy Eagan) and her longstanding boyfriend Richard Saad (Luis Vega) have scored an "amazing" New York City Chinatown duplex apartment that features sunless windows that look out onto an enclosed courtyard. The apartment comes with a dark basement addition that connects to the upper area via a spiral staircase. Other than being in the middle of a flood plain (think Hurricane Sandy) and in the dodgy end of town (hence the bars on the ground floor windows) and with upstairs neighbors who sound as if they are bouncing bowling balls on the floor, it's a great place to gather the family for a Thanksgiving feast. Add to this the lightbulbs that burn out throughout the apartment one by one.
From the far reaches of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Brigid's father Erik Blake (Richard Thomas) and mother Deirdre (Pamela Reed) have brought along Erik's mother Fiona, or "Momo" (Lauren Klein), who is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease. They are joined by oldest daughter Aimee Blake (Therese Plaehn).
Brigid works as a bartender at two bars even though she has degrees in music composition. While talented, her career is stagnant because, according to her past instructors, she is "good but not good enough." Her boyfriend Richard is, at the age of 38, a professional student still working on his master's degree in pursuit of being a social worker, but is two years away from cashing in on a sizable inheritance left by his grandmother.
Aimee works for a law firm in Philadelphia but may be losing her job soon due to too much sick time brought on by her chronic ulcerated colitis which has flared up since her breakup with her girlfriend. Momo has her good days and bad days, but this seems to be one of the latter as she spends the entire dinner babbling incoherently except during the meal blessing.
Mom Dierdre is an underpaid and underappreciated office manager who carries sharp opinions (both religious and secular) about everyone and their current activities, but it is dad Erik who, as each person tries for one-upmanship on how drab and terrible their lives have become, scores a grand slam with his revelation concerning his maintenance job of 28 years at a private Catholic school. The dream of living better than your parents has been dashed long ago and everyone is in survival mode.
Karam's dialog is completely unfiltered and off the cuff as nothing is held sacred.
Daisy Eagan plays the role of Brigid with a fine balance of offense and defense, as Brigid joins in the simultaneous verbal sparring. Luis Vega's Richard seems content just to be in a relationship and will suffer quietly through nearly anything in order to preserve his happiness. Richard Thomas as Erik is the big surprise, as his caustic attitude gets more biting with each beer as he heads toward the big reveal. Pamela Reed as his no nonsense wife is a barrage of advice about everything in general and nothing in particular. Her unwanted and unneeded gift of a Virgin Mary statue sets the tone. Therese Plaehn as Aimee divides her time between calling her ex, trips to the bathroom and defending her life with on-target dialog. Lauren Klein gives a convincing performance of one whose mind has simply gone away in spite of the careful care of her children and grandchildren.
Director Joe Mantello does a superb job in guiding the touring cast through a variety of scenes where everyone seems to be talking at once and nobody is listening. The even pace is carefully maintained through to the end. Most notable is the set itself, by David Zinn, whose careful construction is that of a "great" apartment that will soon become burdensome to its occupants.
The one gigantic flaw in Cleveland is that the Connor Palace sound system is once again not up to the task of serving this dialog-driven show. Even from as close to the stage as Row N, one can barely hear the punch lines necessary to carry on the humor, even though each of the actors is fitted with a microphone.
For many, this wincingly honest portrayal of family life will feel as if it is hitting too close to home, but good theater is not always puppies and daffodils. If nothing else, by the end of the play you will realize that your family may not be as bad as you thought and could indeed be worthy of your affectionnow if they could only do something to fix the sound system.
The Humans, through April 29, 2018, at the Connor Palace Theatre at Playhouse Square, 1615 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland OH. Tickets may be purchase online at www.playhousesquare.com, by phone by calling 216-241-6000, or by stopping by the Playhouse Square Box Office located in the outer lobby of the State Theatre. For more information on the tour, visit www.thehumansonbroadway.com.