by Lynn on February 9, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

l-r: Alana Hawley Purvis, Sara Farb
Photo: Epic Photography



At the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Stephen Karam

Directed by Jackie Maxwell

Set, props and costumes by Judith Bowden

Lighting by Michael Walton

Sound by Matthew Skopyk

Cast: Sara Farb

Alana Hawley Purvis

Richard Lee

Laurie Paton

Ric Reid

Maralyn Ryan

Stephen Karam writes about the loving, messy, fractured, funny, brave world of being human from the point of view of Thanksgiving celebrated by a family that clings to something to celebrate.

The Story.  It’s an American play written by Stephen Karam that won the Tony Award for best play in 2016 among other awards.

Deirdre and Erik Blake have driven from their home in Scranton, Pennsylvania to Chinatown in New York City, to have a Thanksgiving dinner with their daughter Brigid and her boyfriend Richard in their new apartment. They are joined by Erik’s mother Momo who has Alzheimer’s disease; and Aimee their other daughter, a lawyer.

Each character deals in his/her own way with disappointment, heart ache, loss of a job and livelihood, kids leaving the nest, parents requiring constant attention, and the fabric of the family is stretched.

Brigid is a struggling composer eking out a living. Richard is a mature student studying to be a social worker. They feel they have lucked out with this duplex apartment. Deirdre and Erik have other thoughts. What with the pounding noise from the floor above, bars on the windows, no view and less than ideally laid out space space, they don’t think this place is a palace. In Judith Bowden’s set the ceilings are low and the bars on the window suggest a claustrophobia that works a treat.

Aimee and her lesbian lover have just broken up and Aimee is pining and sick because of it. Momo (Maralyn Ryan) is deep in the throws of Alzheimer’s disease with occasional burst of distress. Everybody has secrets as well. As per any loving family, slings and arrows of criticism, complaint, suggestions and humour wiz through the air.

We have all been there—parents that expect more of their children and are disappointed.

The parents don’t know why the children left home to live in New York when Scranton is perfectly fine.

The Production. This beautiful production is just dandy. It’s directed by Jackie Maxwell, the former artistic director of The Shaw Festival.  She is used to navigating the choppy waters of tricky, intricate plays, and she is masterful in guiding her stellar cast in this one.

It’s a mix of foreboding with strange, loud noises coming from the floor above (kudos to Matthew Skopyk’s sound) —we are told it’s an old Chinese woman who makes the thundering noise—and the simmering tensions created by the parents who find fault, the children trying to defend themselves, and their secrets they are trying to hide.

And the humour is wonderful and certainly when Jackie Maxwell knows how to heighten a laugh by having a character then move on the laugh-line to get an even bigger laugh.

The cast is masterful.

Ric Reid as Erik is a man barely containing his discomfort at being there in New York—he hates New York– mainly because of a secret he is hiding.  Laurie Paton as his wife Deirdre knows his secret and of course is affected by it and tries to hide her unease. There is that secret language of long married couples who know how to place a barb with deft finesse for full effect. The side-long looks that convey everything are so clear and true here. There is also the look of love and forgiveness that is equally as powerful.

Alana Hawley Purvis as Aimee has a conversation with her ex lover on the phone that is heartbreaking.  It is a one-sided conversation that we are hearing, how Aimee tries to put on a bright voice in a situation she totally mis-reads. The tight smile on her face as she tries to justify the call, the lightness of the voice to suggest she is not hurting, the stops and starts of the conversation because the other person is controlling what is going on, it’s all heart-squeezing and beautifully done.

Sara Farb as Brigid is both relaxed because she’s in her ideal apartment with her boyfriend and on alert because she wants to impress and please her parents. She knows how to navigate this tricky terrain. And Richard Lee as Richard, is the outsider to this family, trying to fit in and be the accommodating host, making easy conversation.

Comment. It’s a play about what it is to be human in all that frail resilience and fear.  And it’s funny, as the rather odd title suggests. The Humans almost sounds like observing life from another planet, when in fact it looks carefully at the hopes, dreams, foibles and disappointments it takes to be human.

It is a play done in real time—105 minutes to arrive, explore, prepare and serve food and reveal the explosive secrets and leave. Foreboding, mystery, secrets and love suffuse the production of this terrific play. There are times during Jackie Maxwell’s exquisite production where you hold your breath, wondering what will happen, the air is so charged with emotion and possibilities.

Co-produced by Canadian Stage and the Citadel Theatre

 Opened: Feb. 8, 2018.

Closes: Feb. 25, 2018.

Running Time: 105 minutes.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Eric P February 21, 2018 at 10:38 pm


Definitely a strong play, which I am still thinking about several days later. One minor point, Aimee did interview for a job in New York but ended up moving to Philadelphia instead.