In “The Humans,” he peeks in on the Blake family and shows just how familiar – and alien – they are. Thanksgiving dinners are ripe for drama – a fact not wasted on writer Stephen Karam.
Daughter Brigid (Sarah Steele) and her boyfriend Richard (Arian Moayed) are hosting in their two-level apartment in New York. He’s cooking; she’s trying to convince dad (Reed Birney) and mom (Jayne Houdyshell) that it’s a choice location with plenty of advantages. They’ve brought grandma (Lauren Klein) and she’s a handful. Suffering from dementia, she’s largely confined to a wheelchair, prone to outbursts just when conversations turn sticky.
Directed by Joe Mantello, “The Humans” sneaks up on its audience (it’s done without an intermission) somewhere between the appetizers and the main course. Brigid’s sister (Cassie Beck) thinks her days at a law firm are numbered, mom is concerned about the millennials at work and dad is cagey about his career shift after years in one place.
“Marriage can help you weather a storm,” mom tells Brigid early on. But Karam has plenty of twisters in store for the Blakes. There’s a thumping noise in the apartment above and a blackout that suggest this is a horror film in the making. It’s not – it’s much too normal – but it is a perfect mirror to the kinds of secrets most families keep from those nearest and dearest.
Birney and Houdyshell underplay throughout, becoming the kind of parents you recognize immediately. Moayed could easily be a surrogate for the author (he isn’t at the eye of the family’s storm) and Klein is probably the most blessed of those in this drama (she doesn’t have to pretend to anyone). Steele annoys with eagerness; Beck brings down the mood with several buzz-killing observations.
While the Blakes drink far more than they should (particularly for a show this taut) and climb the stairs to the bathroom more than you’d want, they lull you into a false sense of security before hitting you over the head with their news.
Repeatedly, someone is at a door listening in on conversations that will ultimately come to a head.
When the most damning emerges, it lands with a thud that’s louder than anything the upstairs neighbor can offer.
Like “August Osage County,” “The Humans” sticks with you long after the company has left.