The Humans

It's a modern update on 19th century naturalism, with hyper realistic settings and the Aristotelian compression of time into a few hours.

There is a certain style of naturalistic playwrighting that has become

dominant in the United States over the past twenty five years.

It's a modern update on 19th century naturalism, with hyper realistic

settings and the Aristotelian compression of time into a few hours.

Real water comes out of the taps, and food is cooked and consumed

onstage while we watch.

In Stephen Karam's Tony Award-winning play, THE HUMANS, which opens

Dundas Little Theatre's 61st season, we find ourselves in a split

level Manhattan basement apartment in Chinatown, where three

generations of the Irish- American Baker family are celebrating

Thanksgiving at the nearly unfurnished home of youngest daughter

Brigid (Rebecca Durance-Hine), and her boyfriend Richard (Adam


Making the drive, from Scanton, Pennsylvania, into the big city are

the parents, Erik, played by Steve O'Brien, and Dierdre, played by

Christine Hopkins, who provide much of the production's gravitas.

Also there, around the table, are Julie Tisdale's portrait of

grandmother "Momo", suffering from dementia, and older sister Aimee,

(Deanna Stevens), a lawyer who has just broken up with her girlfriend,

and who is suffering from ulcerative colitis.  There are constant

trips up the stairs, to an upstage bathroom, which are clearly meant

as some kind of metaphor. Perhaps in its frequency, it reminds us of

how we are polluting the planet.

What starts off pleasantly enough rapidly deteriorates into chaos, as

unspoken truths are revealed, prejudices laid bare, and tempers flare


The uncredited set design, that I gather was mainly the work of John

Bello, and Nancie Mleczko, becomes almost an additional character in

the play.  In that same way the production reminds me a great deal of

Tracy Lett's AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY, which DLT staged about eight years

ago, back in 2014..

According to playwright Karam, the play explores the "existential

angst and dread of New York after 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis".

Despite this serious theme, there is still a lot of humour in the


A number of the plot devices, particularly the elderly Chinese woman

upstairs who keeps repeatedly banging on the ceiling every time the

discussion gets heated, and the running gag of the lightbulbs, one by

one burning out leaving the cast in the darkness, seem to be

metaphorically examinations of the climate crisis, and the end of the

United States dominance in the world.

The Baker family are Irish, but only Steve O'Brien successfully

convinced us of it.  The old ballad THE PARTING GLASS, was sung

without much enthusiasm; whiskey was consumed, and some old stories

were retold. But the representation of a different culture is a tricky

thing to do on stage.

Still, as I imagine that this was not an easy production to stage, I

must give director Matthew Willson, a great deal of credit for keeping

the whole thing going, with rising action leading to a powerful

emotional climax. Theatrical gossip tells me that this was a

production that was plagued with illness, leading to some changes in


My only question for me, would be over the lack of illumination of an

emotional meltdown at the end of the play, that I think was very

important, and was sadly lost.  Unfortunately it was staged virtually

in the dark and so it became more of a vocal performance then a visual

one. Pity that;  obviously a different director would have made

different choices. And I often find that naturalism is a tricky thing

to do well.  But this is a minor quibble, in what was in the end a

powerful evening at the theatre.

The production continues for one more weekend at the Garstin Centre

for the Arts in Dundas.


by Stephen Karam

Dundas Little Theatre

At the Garstin Centre for the Arts

37 Market Street, Dundas

November 10, 11, 12 at 8:00pm

Matinee November 13 at 2:00pm

Tickets:  905-627-5266

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