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The Humans

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The Humans is, quite remarkably, a surprising theatrical achievement in this era of escalating spectacle. There are no special effects, no dazzling lights, no soaring music, nor any explosions (unless you count loud thumping from an apartment above Richard (Nick Mills) and Brigid’s (Sarah Steele) New York two-story flat). The play concerns simply the interactions among an Irish-Catholic family from Scranton who have come to spend Thanksgiving together in the couples’s new apartment. It is so new, in fact, that they are not fully unpacked and are missing some necessities. Lights go off and on, and no light bulbs are in evidence foreshadowing things to come.

It’s clear from the outset that they are a companionable bunch, but the usual family carping signals that there are issues among the group. First up, Matriarch Fiona “Momo” Blake (Lauren Kline) arrives in a wheelchair suffering from advanced dementia, and son Erik Blake (Reed Birney) and his wife Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell) are her caregivers. From the reaction of the family’s solicitude, it is evident that Momo has played a positive role in their lives. Even so, her care is causing a strain, because it is learned that there is no money to provide the kind of professional relief needed.

Mom Deirdre begins by reminding Brigid that marriage is preferable to simply cohabiting. This appears to be a familiar refrain, so Brigid deflects the advice and bustles around trying to keep tensions down. They are joined by sister Aimee (Cassie Beck). We learn that she has just broken up with her longtime girlfriend, is facing surgery for ulcerative colitis, and her law firm has passed her over for a partnership, which is career threatening. Boyfriend Richard is a social worker, and his more affluent background causes some friction with dad Erik, a custodian in a school.

Yes, there are problems. As the day unfolds, more issues come to light, and tempers flare. The beauty of the play is that it is delivered in such a humorous and sensitive manner that it seems utterly familiar to anyone who has been part of a close-knit family, especially at holiday time.

Nominated for nearly every award given in a season, this is the original Broadway cast, and director Joe Mantello, also along to reprise his take on Stephen Karam’s affecting script, delivers exactly what was lauded by all the critics.

Houdyshell and Birney's strong performances anchor the play. Hard-working and matter-of-fact, they stoically soldier on, taking life as it comes and moving forward. Beck is particularly touching as she faces her character's serious problems.

Mills and Steele acquit themselves well as the couple just finding their footing, and Klein is remarkable as she makes senility harrowingly believable.

David Zinn's bi-level set design serves Mantello well, giving him scope to move his actors fluidly from scene to scene. Justin Townsend's lighting design is also notable, as Karam uses diminishing light as a theatrical tool to draw attention to escalating troubles in the family.

There have been hundreds of plays written about family dynamics, sometimes even set, as this one is, in an apartment around a dinner table. This play is a notch above the pack, and it is notable for its naturalistic style and dialogue that packs a subtle punch. It is utterly believable, sympathetic, and its humor guarantees that it will be a theatrical staple illuminating the human condition.

The Humans is performed at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 Grand Ave., Los Angeles. June 19-July 29. Tickets are $30-130. 213-972-4400 or www.CenterTheatreGroup.org for dates and times.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.