Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Infected
The Humans might also be viewed as a quirky update of Barefoot In The Park, set on a first Thanksgiving at a young couple's ratty Ground Zero apartmentif it weren't for the crack of doom that sounds occasionally, overhead. Still it's quite a charming show. The Humans debuted in Chicago in 2014, then played Off-Broadway in 2015 before a big theatrical promotion the following year, where it won a Tony for Best Play on Broadway. It has loads of humor, but with a dark undercurrent. For the Blake clan, it's the early 21st century, and there's no stopping the oligarchy that's ruthlessly gutting one life after another.
That sounds like an awful lot for any play to have to live up to, but there's magic at work on the Repertory Theatre's mainstage. Even with one foot set in something as familiar as a Neil Simon comedy, there's plenty of room for the Blakes to explore the unknown, under the direction of soon-to-be-retired Artistic Director Steven Woolf. Mr. Woolf will climb down to become our theatrical elder statesman, though the future is anything but certain for his current onstage clan. Their rituals and family jokes have recently become a crutch for sudden economic dislocation. And it all leads to a surreal scene, when storylines converge, in an extraordinary dream-like sequence at the end.
Talk of dreams recurs throughout, of both the old and new American varieties, and there's the familiar theatrical device of a dying, demented senior citizen (here the nearly spectral Darrie Lawrence as Momo Blake), who exists in her own perpetual dream-state. And maybe there's a meta-reality at work too, in the lineage of Irish drama. As in Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa, human destruction for these Irish-Americans from Scranton has become as reliably regular as the G line.
Brian Dykstra is commanding and kind, by turns, as the dad (and the nearly bereaved son of Momo). His future involves what should be a dream house on a lake somewhere in Pennsylvania, though he seems to hear Wes Craven's living dead stalking there already. And Kathleen Wise is the older daughter, who's recently been inducted in the burgeoning zombie classit's a great performance as a lesbian lawyer, stunned to have worked hard and been a good wife for years, only to be unceremoniously dumped in both fields, just as her body fails her in her prime.
But it's also funny, I swear!
Lauren Marcus and Fajer Kaisi are excellent as the young hostess and her swain. It's no longer terribly odd to find that she's also dangling by a thread, but he seems to have a weirdly, inexplicably bright future ahead of him, putting an odd tang in the air. Material success, even for these well-socialized American Catholics, is very nearly in bad taste these days. (Ms. Marcus' own reading of a half-hearted letter of recommendation is one of the many naturalistic highlights in her performance.) One moment the steady comedy acts as a force-field containing everyone's darkest doubts; and the next it's the other way around, like some inescapable, loving trap.
"Well, what family doesn't have it's ups and downs," as Eleanor of Aquitaine is supposed to have said (it was said by Ms. Lawrence, in fact, in a recent season at the Rep). And we're delighted to find, by the end here, we hardly know which is which.
Through March 4, 2018 at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, 130 Edgar Rd., St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.repstl.org.
The Players (in speaking order)
Additional Production Credits