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