Family turmoil powerfully captured in ‘The Humans’ in San Jose

There’s something severely amiss in the humble Thanksgiving dinner taking place in the as yet unfurnished apartment of new couple Brigid and Richard.

Brigid’s Irish Catholic family is coming over, and her parents keep making pointed passive-aggressive comments about why she and Richard aren’t married or even engaged. But there’s a lot more than that eating at every person there, and the misery keeps leaking its way to the surface in “The Humans,” the Tony Award-winning play by Stephen Karam (“Speech and Debate,” “Sons of the Prophet”) now playing at San Jose Stage Company.

“The Humans” premiered in 2014 in Chicago and went on to win the 2016 Tony Award for best play and was a finalist for that year’s Pulitzer. SHN (now BroadwaySF) brought the touring post-Broadway production to San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre just last year.

The San Jose Stage production is directed by Thick Description Theatre Company founder Tony Kelly, who’s helmed several productions for the Stage in the past (“The Memory Stick,” “Race,” “The Addams Family”).

The temperamental duplex apartment in New York City is a character in its own right, and it comes to ominous life in Kelly’s effectively unnerving production. Giulio Perrone’s set conjures a fully realized two-floor Chinatown apartment with one sad little window on the upper (ground) floor and a spiral staircase that ensures a lot of head-bumping on the ceiling of the basement half. The walls are bare, and there’s no furniture aside from a recliner, a chaise and some folding chairs and card tables. There aren’t even any boxes.

Michael Palumbo’s lighting periodically flickers or suddenly blows out, and Lana Palmer’s sound design is peppered with thunderously booming thumps that made the person sitting next to me jump every single time. Nobody knows what actually causes those deafeningly loud noises except that the upstairs neighbor must be doing something pretty dramatic. It’s either that or the house is haunted, which honestly feels more and more likely as the play goes on.

Madeline Rouverol is warm and lively as Brigid, a disappointed musician currently working subsistence jobs, though she’s repeatedly embarrassed and irritated by her parents, particularly her garrulous mother, Deirdre (Marie Shell, world weary but carrying on nonetheless). Tim Kniffin is prickly and restless as father Erik, with something clearly weighing on his mind that he’s almost maddeningly slow to discuss.

Erik’s been having nightmares that keep him up at night, and he doesn’t want to talk about

Source:: The Mercury News – Lifestyle


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