After opening on Broadway in 2016 and debuting its 13-city national tour in Seattle this past November, Steve Karam’s one-act play, “The Humans,” is set to premiere at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theater (151 W. Randolph St.) Jan. 30.
The play follows the story of the Blake family’s Thanksgiving festivities. Straying from the tradition of spending Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania, Erik Blake (Richard Thomas), along with his wife Deirdre (Pamela Reed), and daughter Aimee (Therese Plaehn) travel to Manhattan to spend the holiday celebrating and giving thanks at their daughter Brigid’s (Daisy Eagan) new apartment. Not far into the evening, tensions arise as the family disagrees over political and cultural viewpoints and potentially dangerous secrets are threatened to be exposed.
The play focuses on familial dynamics and the way older and younger generations come to understand each other. Brigid and Aimee’s modern understanding of life is contrasted by the more traditional values held by their parents.
Enhanced with comedic elements, “The Humans” depicts the reality of a typical family’s Thanksgiving meal. The play sheds light on the stressful and interrogative nature of holiday dinners as each character navigates his or her way through the evening.
The PHOENIX spoke over the phone to Tony Award winner Daisy Eagan (“The Secret Garden”) about her experiences with the production. Eagan praises Karam’s work and spoke about the wonderful opportunity of working with him.
“The chance to work with a living playwright whose work is being celebrated and produced is such a great opportunity,” Eagan said. “I would have been a lunatic to pass that up. [Karam is] an incredible writer and artist, and the opportunity to work with him and be in this play that was so highly-celebrated when it was on Broadway is a gift.”
“The Humans,” written by Karam and directed by Tony Award winner Joe Mantello, has won numerous awards for its original Broadway production. Among those, it won four Tony awards, including best new play. The play was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
“What ends up happening in the apartment is very mundane, but it’s the way it’s being interpreted by the people experiencing it that makes it interesting and makes it stand out,” Eagan said.
The underlying message of the play is one of self-reflection. Eagan said she hopes people will walk away remembering to consider other people’s feelings and opinions.
“[The play] helps us as people to see ourselves reflected back to ourselves,” Eagan said. “We have an opportunity to think about our behavior, who we are and how we go about life.”
Eagan’s character, Brigid, and her boyfriend, Richard (Luis Vega), moved into a spacious duplex in lower Manhattan, but Erik isn’t enthusiastic about the location. Brigid struggles to seem cosmopolitan and sophisticated, but when a situation goes beyond her control, she gets frustrated and unintentionally causes family drama.
“She doesn’t know herself as well as she thinks she does,” Eagan said. “Brigid is very controlling and wants things to go a particular way, and when they don’t, she causes drama that doesn’t necessarily need to be there.”
Drawing on her own experiences as a young adult by remembering her own family holiday dinners, Eagan is able to step into Brigid’s shoes and create a clear portrait of her character.
“When I was younger, I wanted to control situations that I wasn’t aware I couldn’t control,” Eagan said. “In those ways, I can identify with Brigid. I wanted to feel older and more sophisticated than I was.”
“The Humans” will induce laughter while also tugging at the heartstrings all within its one 90-minute act. Eagan said the audience will walk away from the show with a renewed sense of hope.
“My sister saw it and said one minute she’d be laughing hysterically and the next second she’d be crying,” Eagan said. “It runs a gamut of human emotions, which is part of why it’s so beautifully written.”
Karam’s plays and writing style often focus on themes of anxiety, fear and loss. In “The Humans,” these elements are portrayed through the hardships, both financial and emotional, faced by each of the six characters. “The Humans” is a must-see, especially for theatre students, whether it’s for the acting, directing or technical aspects of the production, according to Eagan.
“If you have the opportunity to see this play, no matter who you are, you should,” Eagan said. “It’s a really beautiful example of modern playwriting. It’s exciting to get to be a part of that as it’s unfolding.”
“The Humans” will play at the Cadillac Palace Theater Jan. 30-Feb. 11. Tickets can be purchased at Broadway in Chicago box offices by calling 800-775-2000 and online at http://www.broadwayinchicago.com/show/the-humans/. Ticket prices range from $22 to $126.