Mar 14

Theatre Calgary’s ‘The Humans’ has good conflict but is ultimately unsatisfying

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

Photo Credit: Trudie Lee Photography

Tensions are running high at the Blake’s Thanksgiving dinner. Hosted by the youngest daughter, and as with most occasions that involve the whole family, everyone delivers passive aggressive remarks. But it’s family; so every family member sticks it out. The Humans by Stephen Karam is an intimate look at the interactions of the Blake family at Thanksgiving, and though it doesn’t quite get ugly, it doesn’t skip along smoothly either. The play builds the tension and its characters thoroughly, but doesn’t conclude or delivery any kind of message. The audience is mostly just witnesses to dysfunctional family dynamics - something we all get at our own dinner tables at Thanksgiving.

The play opens to the father of the family, Erik (Ric Reid) on the upper floor of the apartment looking bewildered. Strange noise shakes the building but everyone chalks it up to the neighbour upstairs. Brigid (Lili Beaudoin), the youngest daughter, ushers them all into her apartment, trying to make sure everyone is comfortable. It’s a bit of a drab apartment: two floors with very little light, but Brigid and her boyfriend Richard (Shekhar Paleja) are making the best of it. They are in New York City’s Chinatown and her mom Deidre (Elinor Holt) is quick to point out that the house feels like a cave. There is an underlying passive-aggressiveness from her parents about her apartment. They assert that if she didn’t live in New York she’d be able to afford more, to which she counters she can’t afford more because her parents didn’t help her out with money. Throwing a bit of a wrench into the mix is Erik’s mother Momo (Barbara Gordon) who is wheelchair bound and spends most of the play napping or staring into oblivion, minus one outburst. Brigid’s sister Aimee (Ayla Stephen) adds another layer of complexity to the play as she has recently suffered a break up, just lost her job and is bleeding internally.

There are many underlying themes in The Humans the play bumps up against all the time. There is money and the idea about working hard but earning less. “Don’t you think it should cost less to be alive?” Erik asks in the play. Brigid is accused of being selfish and not working hard enough to earn more money, while the parents are trying to find a way to support Momo and live out their retirement lives. There is the theme of the fantastical, demonstrated by the strange noises and the fact that the lights keep going out in the cramped apartment. It is a little creepy, but doesn’t seem to suit the full narrative of the play. There are the secrets that each family member is keeping, not quite revealing honestly what is it that is going on for them in their respective lives.

The performances are solid with Holt and Stephen standing out and we must tip our hats to Cameron Porteous’ set design of a dollhouse view of the two floors of the apartment on the Max Bell Stage. Paleja does a good enough job for a character that has barely any development other than being the ‘boyfriend.’ Peter Moller’s sound design and Kimberly Purtell’s lighting design help to give the play that fantastical edge.

The Humans has good character development and good tension within the narrative but doesn’t seem to do anything with that tension or say anything as a whole. Everything just kind of seems to dissipate, and it’s ultimately unsatisfying.

Theatre Calgary’s The Humans runs until March 31. More information is available online.


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