Family Dynamics

Family Dynamics

T2’s ‘The Humans’ a perfect blend of humor, drama


Rarely does a play cry out for the old theater cliché “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry” as much as Stephen Karam’s “The Humans.”

The Tony Award winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist is playing at TheatreSquared through Feb. 18, after closing on Broadway just over a year ago — a true coup for the company.

“Frankly, it’s a mark of how far we’ve come as a company that we’re able to stage ‘The Humans’ this year,” says T2 executive director Martin Miller. “There is, unsurprisingly, a long line of suitors for the newest Tony Award winner for Best Play — and, with some help from the playwright, we found ourselves at the front of the line. Northwest Arkansas is seeing the show even before Boston, Dallas, San Francisco or Los Angeles had the chance.”

You won’t find one review of the Broadway production that doesn’t mention Karam’s skill at perfectly combining comedy with pathos.

“The first time I read the play I both laughed out loud and cried, tears streaming down my face, a handful of times before I had even finished reading it through,” says actor Molly McAdoo, who plays Aimee Blake in the T2 production. “I remember that I was sitting with my boyfriend who kept looking over at me with a face like, ‘What is happening over there?’”

The play takes place on Thanksgiving: Young couple Richard and Brigid are celebrating the holiday in their just-acquired New York apartment. They’ve invited Brigid’s parents Erik and Deirdre, her sister Aimee and Erik’s mother — the girls’ grandmother — Momo, who is in the last throes of Alzheimer’s disease. Also in attendance: long-simmering resentments, the knowledge of exactly which emotional buttons to push for maximum effect, ample class issues, worries about health and mortality … and familial love. In fact, it’s the abundance of genuine love and affection that the family members show each other that keeps Karam’s work buoyant despite the weightiness of its subject matter.

Director Shana Gold — a frequent T2 collaborator who last directed “Intimate Apparel” — says the ultimate message of the play is one of optimism.

“[It’s shown] by how resilient and funny so many of us are in the face of all of these anxieties,” she says. “The play is interested in how we get up and move through our days, do what needs to be done — even with these big, existential anxieties hanging over our heads: with humor and resilience and with some help from the people we love.”

Gold has assembled a talented cast which, at a recent open rehearsal, had no problem convincing an audience that they were family, despite being in rehearsal for only a handful of days.

“We are building the Blake family in our rehearsal room, and it is an absolute joy,” says McAdoo. “Shana Gold, our wonderful director, led us through a handful of writing exercises and improvisations in our first few days of rehearsals where we really got to play with the family dynamic that is so beautiful and clearly constructed already in the play.”

It’s easy for most of us to identify with the family dynamic — and dysfunction — exhibited in the play. As the turkey goes down, the tension goes up, and family members trade off the roles of peacemaker and provocateur throughout the meal as they build toward a heartbreaking climax.

“Everyone’s right, guys,” says eldest daughter Aimee (McAdoo) placatingly as one argument reaches a critical peak.

Gold says the overlapping dialogue — part of what makes Karam’s script read so naturally — is a challenging technical aspect.

“It’s a testament to the actors’ skill that they make it seem like the dialogue happens spontaneously, but there are very specific places where the overlapping dialogue is designated, and it’s a lot of work to get that right,” says Gold. “It’s really very musical in that sense — like a score. There are certain points where the chaos will be overlapping, and the audience has to let it wash over them. But there are more moments where we hope they hear and see everything.”

Including the lines spoken by Momo who, this Thanksgiving, isn’t having one of her “good days.” But listen carefully: She still has something to say. Among the inaudible phrases that come from her mouth is this line, repeated clearly: “You can never come back.” In one of the most moving parts of the show, she imparts a lesson to her granddaughters that includes the instructions to “dance more than I did.”

Listen carefully to Karam’s “Humans,” and you’ll laugh and cry. But you’ll also learn.


‘The Humans’

WHEN — Through Feb. 18; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

WHERE — TheatreSquared, 505 W. Spring St. in Fayetteville

COST — $10-$44

INFO — 443-5600


Categories: Theater