Do you remember being reminded, from a very early age, that there were subjects never to bring up nor talk about at a Thanksgiving dinner? Never talk about religion, money, politics, sexual preferences or sexual practices ... and never, never give up family secrets!
Remember that as you see “The Humans,” a Tony Award-winning one-act play created by the Pulitzer-nominated playwright Stephen Karam. The production by the Lean Ensemble Theater opened Thursday evening at the Main Street Theatre on Hilton Head Island.
It will interest, entertain, and compel you on so many levels. And it didn’t just happen!
Well-known director and actor Peggy Trecker White applied her particular approach, which, when combined with her interpretation of the work and her careful staging of the action set against an extraordinary two-story stage, guaranteed the success of our production.
As sure as there is a “T” in turkey, there is an organic turkey in the oven, some kale and cranberry salad in the fridge, gluten-free biscuits, and cupcakes from Costco for dessert, all languishing on a countertop.
Thanksgiving for the Blake family, plus one, of New York City and Scranton, Pennsylvania, is just about to begin.
The flow of the show
The Blake family’s Thanksgiving dinner is hosted by Aimee Blake (Amanda Sox), the youngest daughter of Erik Blake (Jerry Durkin) and his wife Deirdre (Victoria Bundonis). Joining in on the occasion is Fiona “Momo” Blake (Sheila Kadra) who is the mother of Erik and grandmother of Aimee, and her sister, Brigid Blake (Taylor Harvey). Assisting Brigid, and everybody, really, at this important event is Richard Saad (Blake White), who lives with Aimee.
The Blakes are clearly a middle-class, Irish, mostly Catholic family. They love and respect each other, and share in their concern for quality of life.
Erik has held a maintenance position for almost 30 years at a Catholic school. Deirdre has been an office manager for 40 years, a position she took when she graduated from high school. Momo is Erik’s mom, who suffers from severe dementia, and is generally confined to a wheelchair, but suffers bursts of frustration and realization.
Erik and Deirdre apparently have something they want to share before the Thanksgiving dinner is over. Aimee is a lawyer, and a lesbian, who has just experienced a breakup with her girlfriend and, by the way, suffers from severe ulcerative colitis and was just told by her physician that she will need surgery, and further was told by her law firm that she is not on track toward a partnership.
Brigid is a composer and musician who, after graduating from college and unable to find a position in her field of music, has been working as a bartender to help make ends meet, and to pay off her student loan.
Richard, in his last year of graduate studies in social work, is happy to be among the family on this day. He’s a notable contrast to the Blakes as he comes from a professional family. His mom’s a therapist who lives in Cape Cod, and he, upon becoming 40 (he’s 38) will receive trust fund money. Tensions arise, and a kind of gulf widens, when it is apparent that Richard has money and will have more.
Erik and Deirdre with Momo in tow have driven in the snow from their home in Scranton to share Thanksgiving with the entire family and to see the new two-story duplex tenement apartment where Aimee and Richard now live. It’s in a rather ragged location in New York’s Chinatown.
In a way very Chekhov, our play examines the characters involved in the dinner ... and more. Focusing on each, as a group, Karam then offers close-up looks at everybody ... as a family, then as seen interacting one-on-one, two-by-two, one-against-one, or all-for-one.
Fascinating is that often each of the cast members is absolutely alone. Director Peggy Trecker White sees to the importance of communicating Karam’s focus on the family, and, in a way, it is a family show.
The piece, the third in a collection of flat-out winners by Karam, brought to Thursday night’s performance an effulgent balance of coruscating comedy and heartrending poignancy. It is very funny, a comedy really, which by turns becomes sad and uncomfortable, and dotted with existential references. Someone commented: “Blisteringly funny and at the same time sad, and thoughtful.”
So as soon as the storyline is fully in place, we look to the director to continue to guarantee the brilliance of the production. Rest assured, the all-important theatrical elements that contribute to the quality of this remarkable play are fully present.
In all cases, we note the careful cosseting of the most exquisite cast. All six actors have come together to offer astonishing performances. Perhaps, not to act but to become “The Humans.”
If you go
What: “The Humans.”
Where: Main Street Theatre, 3000 Main St., Hilton Head Island.
When: Oct. 20 and Oct. 27 at 2 p.m.
Oct. 24-26 at 7:30 p.m.
Information: (843) 715-6676; Leanensemble.org.