Theatre Review: ‘The Humans’ at Geva Theatre Center

The cast of “The Humans” at Geva Theatre Center in Rochester.

Set in a turn of the century tenement apartment building in New York City’s Chinatown on Thanksgiving 2013, “The Humans” offers the audience a complex view of intergenerational struggles. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this play going in, but the write up framed it as a production about middle class struggles. What was middle class? Who were the middle class and how is it that so many people with wide ranges of income classify themselves as middle class? While class was certainly an undertone of the production, this was not the main theme for me.

. . .a definite “must see.”

Performed in one act, The Humans opens with Richard Saad preparing Thanksgiving dinner for his girlfriend, Brigid Blake, and her family. Brigid comes in through the upstairs/ground flour door with her parents, sister and grandmother. They have traveled in to NYC from Scranton, Pennsylvania to see Brigid and Richard’s new apartment. Brigid is clearly excited to have found such a gem as a duplex apartment in Manhattan and wants her family’s approval. The uncomfortableness and agitation I felt at this opening scene gives testament to the actors excellent ability to portray the tensions often felt within a family, particularly around holiday times. Regan Moro’s Brigid is full of enthusiasm for this new living arrangement but is quick to get defensive and combative with anyone who says anything that she perceives as being a criticism of her life choices. There is clear tension between all of the Blake family. “Momo” Blake’s declining health due to dementia is an obvious catalyst for family strife, but as the play continues, the audience finds deeper levels of struggle for each of the family members which plays into the growing tension.

As an outsider, Thamer Jendoubi’s Richard tries throughout the play to find his place. Vacillating between ingratiating himself to Brigid’s parents and defending her and himself against their criticism, his character acts as a sort of pendulum between the generations. It is hinted that Richard is older than Brigid, but the audience never finds out how much older. In many instances, his thinking seems to be more in line with Dierdre and Erik rather than Aimee and Brigid. Coming from Connecticut and a different class background than the Blakes, he also personifies the tension between the younger and older generations. Where “Momo” came from poverty and struggle as an Irish immigrant in NYC and Deirdre and Erik have made a life for themselves in a working class/blue collar town, Aimee and Brigid have moved back to big city living and into a seemingly higher economic bracket.

Throughout the play, topics of religion, health care, living conditions, food choices, how we spend our money, traditions and family trauma act as a foil for the differences between each of the family members. As much as each generation has grown and changed though, in the end the love that they feel for one another comes through. They may not always understand each other and may be disappointed in decisions each has made along the way, but their commitment to staying connected to each other is a constant. That connection is what makes “The Humans” so relatable. Throughout the play I was kept tense and on-edge, which is a credit to the actors’ performance. Although I’m not sure I could sit through the tension a second time, this production is a definite “must see.”

Run time: about 90 minutes with no intermission

“The Humans” is playing at Geva Theatre until March 17, 2019 in Rochester. Click here for more information.