I’d heard very different reports about the play The Humans at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre before I went to see it last Saturday. One person told me it was depressing and I certainly wouldn’t leave the theater feeling upbeat. Another person wondered whether it had really been worth the price of admission. They said the actors were hard to hear. Another said it had to be a good play because it won four Tony awards and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
It’s a sad play, no doubt about that. As a family gathers for Thanksgiving in the New York apartment of their youngest daughter Brigid and her new boyfriend Richard, we find out Brigid works as a bartender because her hopes of becoming a music composer have been dashed. Her boyfriend struggles with depression. Brigid’s Dad Erik has just lost his job as a janitor. Deidre, Brigid’s mother has a dead end job and is trying to lose weight for health reasons. Brigid’s older sister Amie, a lawyer, recently broke up with her long time lover and suffers from colitis. Finally there is Grandma who is in a wheel chair and in the throes of full blown dementia. Not a very upbeat cast ensemble to be sure but……………as the play progresses you realize despite their many problems these family members care about one another, they love each other, they have traditions they hold dear and they help each other out.
As I’d been told, sometimes it was hard to hear all the actors’ words. Of course we don’t understand everything Grandma says because she has dementia and rants and raves often in an unintelligble way. Deidre frequently spouts critical asides, saying things under her breath and we don’t need to know exactly what she is saying just that she has an alternate opinion. I admit sometimes the talking was fast and furious and later reading some reviews I realized there were details I had missed. But…………. I still think the play was thought provoking and well worth the price of admission.
And…….. I think I know why the play won so many awards. It encapsulates in one family dinner all the realities that many Americans are struggling with. All the main characters are challenged at work, with their health, with their financial situations and as the play progresses we learn the 9/11 tragedy still haunts the family pscyhe.
I enjoyed The Humans more than I thought I would given what I was told about it ahead of time. As we walked home I said the family in the play had been dysfunctional but still endearing. My husband disagreed. “Think a bit MaryLou, they weren’t really dysfunctional.” And my husband was right. In many ways this family was functioning as a family should, supporting, caring and interacting despite having all kinds of challenges and problems and differences, just like most families do.