The Humans, an inhuman play

The play by Stephen Karam, currently on stage at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles, has already made its mark in Chicago and New York. 

CRITICS' PICK "A haunting, beautifully realized play, quite possibly the finest we will see all season... Blisteringly funny and altogether wonderful." —Charles Isherwood, The New York Times

"Absolutely, relentlessly gripping... Rackingly funny even as it pummels the heart and scares the bejesus out of you." —Jesse Green, New York Magazine 

CRITICS' PICK, FIVE STARS "Gorgeous. Stephen Karam boldly forces us into a world beyond the familiar." —Adam Feldman, Time Out New York

"Breaking with tradition, Erik Blake has brought his Pennsylvania family to celebrate Thanksgiving at his daughter's apartment in lower Manhattan.  As darkness falls outside the ramshackle pre-war duplex, eerie things start to go bump in the night.  Soon, family tensions reach a boiling point… and the hilarity, heart and horrors of the Blake clan are exposed."  (From the program notes)

Such are the rave reviews of a well and truly miserable play.  Thankfully, it is one act, one hundred minutes in length.  Any longer, and most normal men in the audience would be likely ready to commit hara-kiri.  The play is a hundred minutes of misery, sadness, disappointment, anger, rage, consequences of poor choices, generational conflict, and belief in nothing.  In short, the playwright has packed every possible aspect of human anguish into those one hundred minutes.  

A sane person should want to run screaming from the theater, so banal is this play.  This is not to suggest that pain and unhappiness are not worthy subjects for the theater.  This one, however, has dreamt up a passel of miseries and inflicted them all on one group of five characters.  Who is to say what passes as a normal family, but Karam makes this family suffer a middle-class American version of the trials of Job.  Each character is suffering one painful thing or another, physical or mental, one emotional wound or another, one painful memory or another.

There are a few humorous lines, only a few.  They are so welcome that they get huge laughs.  But the bulk of the play is one long testament to disillusion.  Life is a trial, a torment.  This, like most plays these days, is what passes for great theater.  What a shame.  No longer is there such a thing as happiness on the stage.  No more happy endings.  Happy endings would probably qualify as a trigger warning; that would not be fair to unhappy people. 

Perhaps the reason such plays have become the staple of the theater is that theater folk are so unhappy themselves that they assume that all people are as despondent as they are.  Their plays depict so much of their own gloom and doom that sitting through them just might make their audiences leave the theater happier, no matter how difficult their own lives may be.  "Thank God I'm not a member of that family," they might think with relief. 

The play is not "blisteringly funny."  Nor is it "altogether wonderful."  It is not gripping, rackingly funny, or scary.  It is not "beyond familiar"; it is tediously boring.  While people may identify with one or two or three of the seeming difficulties depicted, this family's collective basket of problems will resonate with few.  But it will make play-goers glad it's not their family.  

The program notes include an interview with Karam.  He admits to including "everything that keeps people awake at night."  So he threw the whole wad of little tragedies and disappointments at one sad little family.  But not one of them had much to say, to contribute.  Not one of them seemed to think much at all about anything but himself.  Not one of them was connected to the outside world by anything but their shared distress. 

All of this said, this play won four Tonys!  Misery sells, and its buyers pretend it's art.  The theater of our past, Lerner and Lowe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Neil Simon, brought anyone who saw those productions exhilaration and pleasure.  Humans brings to its audiences nothing but angst and sorrow.  One day soon, perhaps, with the shared optimism beginning to bloom along with a great economy and radically decreased unemployment, those who choose which plays to produce will lighten up and bring us some joy.  Let us all look forward to that day.

The play by Stephen Karam, currently on stage at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles, has already made its mark in Chicago and New York. 

CRITICS' PICK "A haunting, beautifully realized play, quite possibly the finest we will see all season... Blisteringly funny and altogether wonderful." —Charles Isherwood, The New York Times

"Absolutely, relentlessly gripping... Rackingly funny even as it pummels the heart and scares the bejesus out of you." —Jesse Green, New York Magazine 

CRITICS' PICK, FIVE STARS "Gorgeous. Stephen Karam boldly forces us into a world beyond the familiar." —Adam Feldman, Time Out New York

"Breaking with tradition, Erik Blake has brought his Pennsylvania family to celebrate Thanksgiving at his daughter's apartment in lower Manhattan.  As darkness falls outside the ramshackle pre-war duplex, eerie things start to go bump in the night.  Soon, family tensions reach a boiling point… and the hilarity, heart and horrors of the Blake clan are exposed."  (From the program notes)

Such are the rave reviews of a well and truly miserable play.  Thankfully, it is one act, one hundred minutes in length.  Any longer, and most normal men in the audience would be likely ready to commit hara-kiri.  The play is a hundred minutes of misery, sadness, disappointment, anger, rage, consequences of poor choices, generational conflict, and belief in nothing.  In short, the playwright has packed every possible aspect of human anguish into those one hundred minutes.  

A sane person should want to run screaming from the theater, so banal is this play.  This is not to suggest that pain and unhappiness are not worthy subjects for the theater.  This one, however, has dreamt up a passel of miseries and inflicted them all on one group of five characters.  Who is to say what passes as a normal family, but Karam makes this family suffer a middle-class American version of the trials of Job.  Each character is suffering one painful thing or another, physical or mental, one emotional wound or another, one painful memory or another.

There are a few humorous lines, only a few.  They are so welcome that they get huge laughs.  But the bulk of the play is one long testament to disillusion.  Life is a trial, a torment.  This, like most plays these days, is what passes for great theater.  What a shame.  No longer is there such a thing as happiness on the stage.  No more happy endings.  Happy endings would probably qualify as a trigger warning; that would not be fair to unhappy people. 

Perhaps the reason such plays have become the staple of the theater is that theater folk are so unhappy themselves that they assume that all people are as despondent as they are.  Their plays depict so much of their own gloom and doom that sitting through them just might make their audiences leave the theater happier, no matter how difficult their own lives may be.  "Thank God I'm not a member of that family," they might think with relief. 

The play is not "blisteringly funny."  Nor is it "altogether wonderful."  It is not gripping, rackingly funny, or scary.  It is not "beyond familiar"; it is tediously boring.  While people may identify with one or two or three of the seeming difficulties depicted, this family's collective basket of problems will resonate with few.  But it will make play-goers glad it's not their family.  

The program notes include an interview with Karam.  He admits to including "everything that keeps people awake at night."  So he threw the whole wad of little tragedies and disappointments at one sad little family.  But not one of them had much to say, to contribute.  Not one of them seemed to think much at all about anything but himself.  Not one of them was connected to the outside world by anything but their shared distress. 

All of this said, this play won four Tonys!  Misery sells, and its buyers pretend it's art.  The theater of our past, Lerner and Lowe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Neil Simon, brought anyone who saw those productions exhilaration and pleasure.  Humans brings to its audiences nothing but angst and sorrow.  One day soon, perhaps, with the shared optimism beginning to bloom along with a great economy and radically decreased unemployment, those who choose which plays to produce will lighten up and bring us some joy.  Let us all look forward to that day.