Dee-nuh nee ner, dee-nuh nee ner, goes the theme music for The Twilight Zone. It would be the perfect opener for the family thriller, The Humans, playing at the Unicorn Theatre. Playwright Stephen Karam explores the gruesome side of fear with an innocent enough introduction to the Blake family that lumbers into the darkest recesses of real-life horror.
Brigid Blake (Ellen Kirk) and her significantly older boyfriend, Richard Saad (L. Roi Hawkins), are living on optimism and potential. They’ve just moved into their Chinatown apartment in New York City. It’s easy to see that even though this place is broken down, these walls make them a family.
They want to share that feeling, so this year they celebrate Thanksgiving in this oddly deteriorated apartment with Brigid’s parents, sister, and grandmother. Above them: noisy neighbors. Below them: nothing, they’re in the basement.
Dierdre (Cathy Barnett), Brigid’s mother, appears to be the strong-personality, soft-heart caretaker to everyone. Erik (Marc Liby) is the dad with a secret burdening his otherwise quiet spirit. Aimee (Katie Karel) is total humor and heartache as she languishes in her post-loss limbo. None is more affecting than Momo, the dementia-wounded grandmother (Margaret Shelby) that is both the most central and most invisible Blake.
The Humans presents a klatsch of relatives that illustrate just how adorable and how creepy family dynamics truly are. Celebrating enclosed in wreckage can do nothing but reveal the monstrous side of seemingly well-endowed lives. Because of it, the narrative twists through family-drama, comedy, and even horror, like full-on ghoulish, sink-down-in-your-seat, cover your eyes horror.
All aspects of the production are top-notch. With the set and sounds, New York is immediately recognized. There is well-timed, well-delivered laughter, music, and noshing. No one performer outshines the others. This ensemble of actors is a galère of talent and skill.
The only flaw is in the writing of the unfortunate character of Richard Saad. Hawkins, who was last seen in a magnificent turn as Crooks in KC Rep’s Of Mice and Men, could not, even with his lighthearted charm bring an equal weight to this outsider whose only purpose seems to be playing the ‘good sport’ who by the end just disappears. But then again, he weaves magic into their lives and his wand is wine. He may just be the mostimportant of them after all.
Special note must be made of Shelby’s Momo as she perfectly shades the ins-and-outbursts, just the right timbre of a mind receding into dementia. A veritable performance with all the subtleness and explosiveness the lucid witness watching the weakening of memory.
Enjoy songs, tears, giggles, and screams with The Humans now through March 31.
Marc Liby, Cathy Barnett, Katie Karel, Ellen Kirk, Margaret Shelby, and L. Roi Hawkins
Producing Artistic Director