Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

The Humans
National Tour
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

The Cast of The Humans
Photo by Julieta Cervantes
As members of the Blake family arrive onstage at the top of Stephen Karam's The Humans, which opened this week at the SHN Orpheum Theatre, each of them (except Momo, the grandmother, who is rolled in in a wheelchair) is carrying bags. Which is fitting, given that they are each bringing their own baggage as they gather for Thanksgiving in the apartment of Aimee (Therese Plaehn) and her boyfriend Richard (Luis Vega). It's also fitting that the bags are primarily disposable plastic grocery bags and not steamer trunks or portmanteaus, for the troubles that afflict the Blakes are not tragedies on a Shakespearean level, but the more ordinary travails that afflict most families: the perils of aging, non-fatal illnesses, breakups, the loss of jobs, careers going nowhere, children disappointing their parents, and the usual petty familial conflicts.

The brilliance of The Humans lies—in part—in its cogency. The text is incredibly tight and efficient without feeling spare or minimal. It simply packs a lot of action and emotion into a very compact 95 minutes. It does what theater does best: scale down the real world to a size where we can feel we are outside it, looking in, with a perspective we previously lacked.

To a certain extent, most theatre can be seen as giving us a view into the lives of our fellow humans, but there is something about the way The Humans is staged that heightens that sense. Set designer David Zinn has left the spaces between the floors of the Blake apartment exposed, as if to remind us of how he has literally sawed off the fourth wall in order to reveal this family to us. But that sense of peering into others' lives is even more pronounced thanks to the astounding naturalism of Karam's language and the easy intimacy of the six performers.

Each of the actors in this touring cast has found a way into their character that reveals to us the joys and perils of being human. As matriarch Deirdre Blake, Pamela Reed exhibits a blend of nosiness and generational disconnect (one of her housewarming gifts for her daughter is a statue of the Virgin Mary) that will be recognizable to almost anyone with a mother. "I love you—I'm just sayin'" she says after giving some unwelcome advice, and the audience's laughter felt as much out of recognition and empathy as it was from appreciation of humor.

As the father, Erik Blake, Richard Thomas has the distracted, disconnected dad thing down to a T. He spends his time at the edges of the gathering, slipping off to check the sports scores, and leaving the role of intrusive parent to his wife. Though he is referred to as "big guy" several times in the script, it seems odd—in part because Thomas himself is not a large man, but also because his character usually plays second fiddle to Deidre.

The two sisters, Aimee and Brigid, as played by Therese Plaehn and Daisy Eagan, are marvelous at expressing their attempts to break free from the strictures of the family constellation, while remaining undeniably faithful to the idea of family. They are there for each other, and their parents and loved ones, in ways both subtle and surprising. Despite the ordinary indignities life throws at the Blakes, Aimee and Brigid remain optimistic.

It's not always pleasant, this short period in which we blink into existence at birth and back out again at death, yet despite the myriad challenges that face them, the Blake family show us there are tremendous rewards to be found along the way, not the least of which is the love and support (and craziness) one can find in family.

The Humans, through June 17, 2018, at SHN's Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market Street, San Francisco CA. Tickets range from $50 - $150, and are available by calling the box office at 888-746-1799 or by visiting For more information on the tour, visit