Review: The Humans Triumph at the Ahmanson

Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell in the New York production of “The Humans.” Photo by Joan Marcus. ©2015 Joan Marcus

The 2016 Tony-winner, “The Humans”, written by Stephen Karam and directed by Joe Mantello (Wicked, Take Me Out) is now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. It’s an indelibly layered drama providing profound insights into the Blakes, a contemporary American family, while shining a light on your own.

L-R: Reed Birney, Cassie Beck, Jayne Houdyshell, Lauren Klein, Sarah Steele and Nick Mills in “The Humans” at the Ahmanson Theatre. Photo by Lawrence K. Ho.

The youngest daughter, Brigid (Sarah Steele) and her older boyfriend, Richard (Nick Mills) have just moved into their barely-furnished, dumpy New York City apartment (staged realistically on two levels) where they’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner for her parents and older sister. Each is suffering some secret pain or loss, but does his best to deflect with sometimes sarcastic and other times heartwarming humor.

Jayne Houdyshell as Deirdre and Reed Birney as “Big Guy” Erik resurrect their Tony Award-winning roles as parents who struggle to afford aging in trying economic times, as well as overcome a marital crisis — one which reveals itself slowly and, refreshingly, without melodrama, thus making the denouement all the more heart wrenching.

Their older daughter, Aimee (Cassie Beck) is battling with the breakup of a lesbian relationship, the decline of her once-promising law career, and debilitating ulcerative colitis. And then, there’s Erik’s mother, Momo (Lauren Klein) who is lost to Alzheimer’s and wafts in and out of consciousness, at times unleashing the anguished remonstrations that everyone else is trying so hard to suppress. Together, the brilliant ensemble plumbs the depths of religion, aging, careers, tradition, and intimacy without missing a beat.

It’s rare when you can’t pick favorites, but perhaps unsurprising when it comes to a cast of this caliber. We often hear of “generous actors”, those who are able to help their costars up their game. Each player in this ensemble is just that kind of generous actor, providing a building block upon which the other can shine. Houdyshell and Birney are undoubtedly at the helm of this masterpiece about the vanishing middle class that’s held together by love, and their performances, infused with nuance, are a thing to admire and even study; but Beck, Mills, Steele and Klein are standing alongside, formidably flexing their own muscles.

— G. Dhalla

The Humans is playing at CTGLA Ahmanson through July 29th. More info HERE.