By Margie Royal
Stephen Karam’s Tony Award-winning play, “The Humans,” directed by Producing Artistic Director Bernard Havard, is now on stage at Walnut Street Theatre through March 4. If you go, the first thing you will notice as you settle into your seat is Roman Tatrowicz’s handsome set in plain view, not hidden behind a curtain. The two-level set shows the interior of an aging New York City apartment. The white walls of the interior show signs of wear, and a winding staircase links the two levels of the basement apartment. Part of the stage shows the building’s exterior: looking out upon a seedy alley and another brownstone building that also shows its age. The buildings have seen better days — just like the members of the Blake family who gather to celebrate Thanksgiving in daughter Bridget Blake’s (Alex Keiper) new apartment. She is living with Richard Saad (Ibrahim Miari), much to the disapproval of Deidre Blake (Mary Martello), who would rather have her daughter married before living with a man. Deidre and husband Erik (Greg Wood) have made the trip into NYC with Fiona “Momo” Blake (Sharon Alexander) who is wheelchair bound and suffering from extreme dementia. Bridget’s sister, Aimee Blake (Jennie Eisenhower), is also present for the Thanksgiving celebration.
Although the play opens brightly with Bridget proud to show her family her new home, and the rest of those gathered expressing joy at being together once more, from there the tone of the play will grow darker as old wounds are reopened and new secrets are revealed. The family and the hopes and dreams of this clan have all seen better days, and even as they fiercely try to cling to their hopes and dreams, the old building with its creaks and ghostly groans seems to mock their attempts to hide behind old beliefs, memories and habits. If this sounds grim, the play isn’t – it sparkles with humor and ends with a strange lightness that may leave you wondering about what you just saw – and that’s often the sign of a brilliant play. “The Humans” won 20 Best Play Awards in 2016, and Walnut’s well-directed production and top-notch cast delivers the play with all of its mysterious power.
Greg Wood as Erik Blake shows us a man clearly trying to make the best of a Thanksgiving reunion with his family. Wood also makes it clear Erik is hiding painful truths that haunt him. Mary Martello perfectly captures Deidre’s wry humor, but shows us that behind Deidre’s sarcasm and sometimes caustic comments, there is genuine warmth and love for her daughters. Jennie Eisenhower makes us feel the full power of Aimee’s heartbreak, loneliness and pain. Sharon Alexander is very affective as Fiona. Alex Keiper shows us a woman fighting hard to hold off the negativity of other people’s opinions and keep the excitement of living. Ibrahim Miari creates an intriguing Richard. We’re left to wonder if the demons of depression will overtake him, or will he enjoy his future? The play takes a long look at our humanity with all its warts and charms. It examines the fragility of our lives, hopes and dreams, yet offers a mysterious light of hope as it concludes.
Shon Causer’s lighting design and Mary Folino’s costumes are nicely done.
I have to add, in all my years of reviewing theatre, I have never seen a prop have the power to stop a show and garner applause. Yet on opening night of “The Humans,” when a blanket was unfolded to cover Fiona, the audience clapped and cheered because the midnight green blanket was decorated with the Philadelphia Eagle logo. Philadephia does love its football team! Playgoers attending this richly naunced Philly production of “The Humans” will find that Walnut Street has staged another winner.
Performances continue through March 4. Open captioning will be available for the 7pm performance on Sunday, February 11. For tickets and information, call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787. Tickets are also available online 24/7 by visiting www.WalnutStreetTheatre.org or Ticketmaster.