“The Humans” Display A Full Spectrum Of Emotions During Thanksgiving Dinner On Stage At Seattle Rep

The Humans Seattle Repertory Theatre

To be human is to be flawed. Were this not so, playwrights would have nothing to write about. 

This poses no problem for Stephen Karam in his 2016 Tony-winning play, “The Humans,” as you will see when the production kicks off its first national tour at Seattle Repertory Theatre, running November 17-December 17. 

Karam’s 90 minute dramedy deals with the angst, anguish, and amity of the American middle class. Themes of loss, fear, and anxiety play out during a family’s annual Thanksgiving dinner. The structure of the play is familiar. On one level, it is a classic tale of a family gathering, squabbling over all those no-no topics—religion, money, politics, I-told-you-so mistakes, and when-I-was-young memories. Vulnerabilities and distortions emerge and fragile walls of restraint crumble–crushed beyond recognition.  

But what distinguishes Stephen Karam’s play “The Humans” is not that Karam lacks awareness of human failings. On the contrary, his characters wear their flaws on their sleeves. It is both hilarious and heartbreaking.  

Meet the Blakes. 
Erik, the family patriarch has brought his Pennsylvania family to celebrate Thanksgiving at his daughter, Bridget’s duplex apartment in lower Manhattan, where she lives with her boyfriend, Richard (she’s 26; he’s 38).  Like, most apartments in NYC, the space is small. It becomes even more cramped as the family and their emotional baggage arrive for the holiday. 

Erik is world-weary. After working for almost three decades at a private school, his future is uncertain. His wife, Deidre, manages an office, but now she must answer to bosses not only decades younger but who make much more money. Deirdre and Erik bring along Erik’s mother, called Momo, who is wheelchair-bound and suffering from dementia. Adding to the emotional imbalances, Momo is having one of her “bad days,” from her near-slumbering to incoherent muttering.  

But she is not the only family member in ill health: Brigid’s older sister, Aimee, has ulcerative colitis (inflammatory bowel disease) and that condition has cost her job at a law firm. Brigid, an aspiring composer, is working two bartending jobs so she can pay off her student loans.  

"The Humans" (Broadway production) Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Sarah Steele, Arian Moayed, Cassie Beck (Photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

“The Humans” (Broadway production) Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Sarah Steele, Arian Moayed, Cassie Beck (Photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

As darkness falls outside the run-down, pre-war duplex, the Blake clan’s deepest fears and greatest follies come to light. Each one, even Momo—is hiding major tragedies…  

Karam exposes these devastating issues through dramedy rather than tragedy. While the family loves and supports one another, they sometimes joke about each other. And sometimes their jokes turn into jabs. As one critic described, “Expect delicate shifts, from witty domestic comedy to painful conflict, and from there to something resembling a goose-pimply chiller.” 

Karam is less interested in the catastrophes than he is about how we cope with them. Critics have called Karam “a writer in the Chekhovian mode.” While people’s happiness is being created and destroyed, all they can really do is go on eating their dinners.  

Directed by Tony-winning director, Joe Mantello, the first national touring cast features Richard Thomas as Erik, Pamela Reed as Deirdre, Daisy Eagan as Brigid, Lauren Klein as Momo, Therese Plaehn as Aimee, and Luis Vega as Richard. 

After an engagement Off-Broadway in 2015, “The Humans” moved to Broadway in 2016, and was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It also won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Play, the Drama Desk Award for best play, and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Play. And newspapers across the country dubbed it “The Best Play of the Year.” 

The tour will also feature the entire creative team from the Broadway production, led by Tony Award-winning director Joe Mantello and including Tony Award-winning scenic designer David Zinn, costume designer Sarah Laux, lighting designer Justin Townsend, and sound designer Fitz Patton. 

As the play evolves from comedy into tragedy, Karam reveals each character’s guarded secrets with great tenderness. Their woes are predictable: lost loves, chronic health issues, the fear of NYC after 9-11, failed jobs, depression, money troubles, health problems, unpardonable misjudgments, and the overwhelming pain of grief, guilt, and regret. What is not predictable, is whether the Blake family can survive this emotional night. The word on the Rialto? Karam doesn’t make it easy for them.  Or for the audience. 

Actor/Director Joe Mantello: Bio. Awards and Nominations
Joe Mantello, an American actor and director, has made a career out of dramas in which characters bust through walls of denial and politesse to bring inconvenient truths to the surface. He’s best known for his work on Broadway productions of “Wicked,” “Take Me Out,” and “Assassins,” as well being one of the original Broadway cast of “Angels in America” (His Broadway debut). He left acting and went on to direct 18 Broadway shows. He has twice won Broadway’s Tony Award: in 2003 as Best Director (Play) for “Take Me Out.” and in 2004 as Best Director (Musical) for a revival of “Assassins.” He has also received two other Tony nominations: in 1993, as Best Actor (Featured Role – Play) for “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches,” and in 1995, as Best Director (Play) for “Love! Valour! Compassion!”  His biggest success came from directing the blockbuster musical “Wicked.” He returned to acting on Broadway in 2011 with his Tony-nominated performance as Ned Weeks in “The Normal Heart.” 

Awards 

  • 1993 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play – Angels in America: Millennium Approaches 
  • 1994-1995 Obie Award, Performance 1995 SSDC Joe A. Callaway Award - Love! Valour! Compassion! 
  • 2003 Tony Award Best Direction of a Play – Take Me Out 
  • 2004 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director of a Musical – Wicked 
  • 2004 Tony Award Best Direction of a Musical – Assassins 

Nominations 

  • 1993 Tony Award Best Featured Actor in a Play – Angels in America: Millennium Approaches 
  • 1995 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director of a Play – Love! Valour! Compassion! 
  • 1995 Tony Award Best Direction of a Play – Love! Valour! Compassion! 
  • 1998 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Direction of a Play – Mizlansky/Zilinsky or ‘Schmucks’ 
  • 2003 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director of a Musical – A Man of No Importance 
  • 2003 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director of a Play – Take Me Out 
  • 2004 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director of a Musical – Assassins 
  • 2005 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director of a Play – Glengarry Glen Ross 
  • 2005 Tony Award Best Direction of a Play – Glengarry Glen Ross 
  • 2011 Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Play – The Normal Heart 
  • 2014 Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Movie/Miniseries – The Normal Heart 
  • 2014 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie – The Normal Heart 
  • 2016 Tony Award Best Direction of a Play – The Humans 
  • 2016 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director of a Play – The Humans 

The Cast 

RICHARD THOMAS (Erik Blake). Mr. Thomasʼ most recent stage appearance was in the Broadway revival of The Little Foxes, for which he received a Tony Award nomination. He also received a Drama Desk Award nomination for his performance in the revival of Arthur Millerʼs Incident at Vichyat the Signature Theater Company. Other recent performances include Iago in Barry Edelsteinʼs production of Othello at the Old Globe, and Jimmy Carter in Lawrence Wrightʼs Camp David, as well as Broadway productions of Ibsenʼs An Enemy of the People, David Mametʼs Race, and Michael Fraynʼs Democracy. He created the roles of John-Boy on the CBS television series “The Waltons” for which he won the Emmy Award, and Agent Frank Gaad on the FX series “The Americans.” Richard was last seen on tour in the hit revival of Twelve Angry Men.  

PAMELA REED (Deirdre Blake). Broadway: Fools, The November People. Off-Broadway: Standing on My Knees, Getting Out (Drama Desk Award). At the New York Shakespeare Festival, Ms. Reed premiered Curse of the Starving Class (Drama Desk nomination), Aunt Dan and Lemon, Fen,Sorrows of Stephen, and All’s Well That Ends Well. Ms. Reed starred in the world premiere of Ezra Pound’s translation of Sophocles’ Elektra. Film credits include Kindergarten Cop, The Long Riders,Bean, Junior, Melvin & Howard, The Best of Times, Cadillac Man, Rachel River, Passed Away,Proof of Life, and The Right Stuff. Ms. Reed can currently be seen in a recurring role on “NCIS: LA.” Other television credits include “Jericho,” “Grand,” “Home Court,” Robert Altman’s “Tanner 88” (Cable Ace Award: Best Actress), and as Amy Poehler’s mom in “Parks and Recreation.” Ms. Reed received the Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance in Theater.  

DAISY EAGAN (Brigid Blake). Broadway: The Secret Garden (Tony Award, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Award nominations), Les Misérables, James Joyce’s The Dead. Off Broadway and Regional: James Joyce’s The Dead, The Secret Garden, Wit, Stoneface, The Wild Party (L.A. Weekly Award: Best Featured Actress, Musical), Be Aggressive, Caught in the Net, On the Mountain, A View from the Bridge. Film: Ripe, Losing Isaiah, Judgment. Television: “The Path,” “Girls,” “The Mentalist,” “Without a Trace,” “Ghost Whisperer,” “Numbers,” “The Unit.” She is a proud member of 30 Minute Musicals and has performed with them in Jurassic Park, The Craft, andHook!. Daisy is a published award-winning writer and has written and performed three one-woman shows across the country. With her writing partner, Jordan Kai Burnett, she writes and performs Daisy and Jordan’s Sunday Brunch of Shame.  

LAUREN KLEIN (Fiona “Momo” Blake). Broadway: The Humans (original cast), Other Desert Cities, Lost in Yonkers (original cast), Broken Glass (original cast). Off-Broadway: Mr. Goldwyn,Death Defying Acts, After the Fall. Regional: Death of a Salesman, Plainsong (Denver Ovation Award: Best Supporting Actress), Eventide, Charles Mee’s Big Love (Connecticut Critics Circle Award: Best Actress), People’s Temple, Denial (Carbonell Award: Best Actress). National: Dirty Dancing, Broadway Bound, I’m Not Rappaport. Television: “Law & Order” (Judge, recurring for ten years). Film: My One and Only, A Price Above Rubies, Then She Found Me. Video: Red Dead Redemption. M.F.A. from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and B.F.A. from the College of Santa Fe, NM.  

THERESE PLAEHN (Aimee Blake). Broadway: The Heidi Chronicles. New York: A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again-After David Foster Wallace at The Public Theater, Family Play (1979 present) (with Collaboration Town), Anna Christie (The Wild Project). Regional credits include Our Town (Huntington Theater), Crimes of the Heart(TheatreWorks Silicon Valley), Paradise Lost (American Repertory Theater), and summers at Gloucester Stage and Chester Theatre. Television: “Mr. Robot,” “Blue Bloods,” “American Odyssey,” “Onion News Network.”  

LUIS VEGA (Richard Saad). New York City and Regional credits: Tell Hector I Miss Him (Atlantic Theater Company), Where Storms Are Born, A Streetcar Named Desire (Williamstown Theatre Festival), The Comfort Team (Virginia Stage), Dance for a Dollar (INTAR), The Tempest(Boomerang Theater), (RUS)H (Here Arts Center), The Knights (Target Margin Theater), ‘Til the Break of Dawn (Culture Project), Alice in War (Summer Play Festival), Life is a Dream (South Coast Repertory), Cloud Tectonics (Out of Line Productions). Film: Another Earth (Official Sundance Selection 2011), Chinese Puzzle, Emoticon 😉. Television credits include: “All My Children” and the web-series “Heirloom.” M.F.A. from the University of California, San Diego and B.A. from Columbia University. 

The National Tour of 2016 Tony-winning play, “The Humans,” runs November 17 through December 17 at Seattle Repertory Theatre; tickets start at $17, discounted tickets for groups of 10+ may be purchased by calling 206.443.2224. For ticket reservations, call the Seattle Repertory Theatre Box Office at 206.443.2222 or toll-free at 877.900.9285, or go online at seattlerep.org. The play runs 90 minutes without intermission. 

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About Starla Smith

Starla Smith is a career journalist, writing features for such publications as The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily News, The Des Moines Register, Vibe and a prize-winning Gannett Newspaper. She helped launch Theater Week Magazine and eventually became its publisher. As a regular contributor to Playbill, her interviews and photos were featured in Playbill and Playbill-on-line. Smith was featured in the New York Times “Style” section for her “Word Portraits,” specialized tributes, speeches, and presentation profiles. And she covered theater and features for City Search, Digital City, and the Tena Duberry WOW! Radio show. She previously served as astrology guru for Out Magazine, and she hastens to assure her readers that “Starla” is indeed her real name.

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