The Humans Crams Family Expectations Into a Small New York City Apartment

Elizabeth Bunch and Elizabeth Stahlmann in rehearsal for The Humans at Alley Theatre.
Elizabeth Bunch and Elizabeth Stahlmann in rehearsal for The Humans at Alley Theatre. Photo by Melissa Taylor

Brigid Blake has moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan's Chinatown with her older boyfriend. Her parents arrive from out-of-town for dinner for dinner — but not just any dinner. No it's Thanksgiving, the holiday devoted to food and all the tension that brings with its preparation.

In The Humans, a one-act finalist for 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and winner of the 2016 Tony Award for Best Play, the Alley Theatre will be showcasing a play about three generations — grandma is there too — with all their wildly divergent views brought together on a day dedicated to family.

Elizabeth Stahlmann (Alley: The Cake) plays Brigid Blake, a young woman who wants a career in music and works two bartending jobs to keep herself financially afloat.

"She’s 26 she’s a composer so it’s kind of a brave artistic pursuit. She has a great amount of concern for eveyone’s well being and how that comes out is often as potentially as compassionate as one could do it She’s in love; it’s a young love and that’s contrasted with her parents’ marriage that is decades long," Stahlmann says of her character.

"Remarkably she’s crazy enough to host Thanksgiving into the apartment she’s just moved into. Most of her stuff isn’t there; it's kind of a spare New York City apartment.," says Stahlmann who adds that this just adds to the overall tension by setting it other than in a comfortable family home. "Nobody understands the apartment yet."

"As most of us know, any family gathering that’s run by heaps of tradition and heaps of expectation often leads to tons of tension especially as families and children grow up and find their own journeys and as they come back and they have to encounter themselves. How do children grow up from their old patterns of behavior? What role does everyone play when they’re back together that may not be the best shining example of who they are or reveal tremendous bravery and empathy?"

One of the biggest challenges in rehearsal, Stahlmann says, is to learn the rhythm of playwright Stephen Karam's lines, which often have characters talking over each other (just like in real life). And then there's the little matter of the dinner itself.

"We’re fixing a whole meal while this is happening. Timing out even down to when do you cut up the vegetables, at what point do you put them on the table in order to say this line to Dad when he needs to hear it." They are still working outon how long it will take from actors to go up and down the stairs in the two-level set, she says.

Stahlmann says her boyfriend Rich is a really good ethical character . "He's still kind of an outsider in this family, who love each other so much despite their tremendous flaws. I have a lot of empathy for Rich who is just maneuvering a brand new circumstance with a lot of grace."

The six-member cast for the one act includes Alley resident company member Elizabeth Bunch as the oldest daughter Aimee Blake, Sharon Lockwood as mother Deirdre Black,, Annalee Jefferies as gradmother Mom Black, Steve Key at Erik Blake and Christopher Salaza at Richard Saad. Brandon Weinbrenner is directing.

"It’s not your regular happy go lucky family.  it’s a really complicated loving family with tremendous flaws but also a lot of things going for them. While it can go into sad places, they also demonstrate incredible resilience. I think that's a really important story to tell."

Performances of The Humans are scheduled for March 1-24 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit $26-$89.
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