Stephen Karam's play is so perfectly titled. The Humans is a deceivingly simple title, two seemingly innocuous words, but as humans, we know that there's much more—complexities, universal truths, timeless family dynamics—to simply being a human, and over the course of one Thanksgiving dinner, Karam delves into them all.
Brigid (Sarah Steele) and her (older) boyfriend, Richard (Arian Moayed), are hosting Brigid's family for Thanksgiving in their new downtown Manhattan duplex. Brigid's sister, Aimee (Cassie Beck), recently got out of a long-term relationship with her girlfriend; Brigid's parents, Erik and Deidre (Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell, respectively), are being parents, worrying about their daughters, while dealing with their own stresses, including taking care of Erik's mother, lovingly referred to as Momo (Lauren Klein), who is in the beginning stages of dementia.
Playing out in real time, The Humans allows us to, essentially, be flies on the walls of the cozy apartment. We see Richard trying to fit in and get in the good graces of his girlfriend's parents. We see the sisters giggle at their inside jokes. We see old parent-child dynamics return, as they often do when parents and their adult children get together.
Joe Mantello (The Last Ship, Casa Valentina) directs a terrific cast. Tony nominees Birney (Casa Valentina, I'm Gonna Pray for You So Hard) and Houdyshell (Fish in the Dark, Follies) are aces as the parents. Birney has lovely tender moments with his daughters, while Houdyshell is a mother you will instantly recognize.
As the sisters, Steele (The Country House, Karam's Speech and Debate) and Beck (Picnic) have a nice rapport, and I found their shared, stolen moments alone to be particularly touching. It was a surprising treat to see the talented, Tony-nominated Moayed (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Guards at the Taj) playing just a normal dude. He's usually playing someone either from another period or for whom his ethnicity is integral to the role, or both. Instead, in The Humans, he's just another human.
I was thoroughly enjoying the naturalistic play, with its palpable wit and true pathos. There were many moments when I found myself nodding in agreement, recognizing something that Karam could have easily pulled from my life or, I'm guessing, any one of my fellow audience members' lives. But the ending took a different-than-expected turn, deviating from where/how I wanted it to end. The end makes sense, to be sure, it's just not the one I wanted. I can't blame playwright Karam, though. He's only human.