Review “The Humans” (American Theatre Company): Disconcertingly and Hysterically Authentic!

Lance Baker, Keith Kupferer, Hanna Dworkin, Sadieh Rifai, Kelly O'SullivanAmerican Theater Company presents the World Premiere of THE HUMANS.

Welcome to the Blakes for Thanksgiving! Dad is exhausted.  Mom is intoxicated.  Sis is brokenhearted. Momo is demented.  Brigid and her new boyfriend are hosting the family gathering in her new, unfurnished apartment. This family is tight.  They know each other’s past mistakes and current inadequacies.  And they love each other anyway that is until someone leaves the room. 

On the two level set designed by David Ferguson, we get to experience the family on two levels. On the main floor, we see the group mock mom’s habit of forwarding religious emails as we observe mom listening in on the second floor.  Director PJ Paparelli masterfully uses his stage to build tension.  The talented ensemble crowd the fairly small second floor.  There is no railing making the action metaphorically and literally teetering along a dangerous edge.              

This story captivates on arrival for its authenticity.  Playwright Stephen Karam has written a biting and touching tribute to families.  His characters are flawed.  Each person is battling multiple issues.  It’s real life messy. Karam never lets the reality of the situation get too oppressive.  The drama is perfectly interlaced with comedy.  Karam’s dialogue is razor sharp. His characters have depth introduced cleverly through dream analysis and a surreal element.  Every conversation builds an understanding of this family’s individual and collective struggles.   

Under the direction of Paparelli, the sublime ensemble interact like family.  There is plenty of eye rolling and snarky sidebars.  As the patriarch, Keith Kupferer (Eric) is outstanding using his signature gruffness to deliver awkward confessions and incidental humor.  The mother-daughter relationship between Hanna Dworkin (Deirdre) and Kelly O’Sullivan (Brigid) is uncomfortably natural.  O’Sullivan jabs back to Dworkin’s critical muses.  The sparring is cloaked in concern for the other person.  Sadieh Rifai (Aimee) is hilarious.  Channeling Janeane Garofalo, a noteworthy Rifai confronts her sucky life with deadpan drollness.  A reserved Lance Baker (Richard) and deranged Jean Moran (Momo) balance out the comedy and drama in the unraveling of the Blake’s holiday dinner.    

THE HUMANS are human!  The show is relatable. People say the wrong things at the right time.  (I wish my family dramas were this well scripted.)  And despite all the family conflict, Karam’s THE HUMANS has a tender side too. We care about all these humans. I left the Blake’s Thanksgiving dinner wanting to return for a Christmas visit.

Running Time:  Ninety minutes with no intermission

At American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron Street

Written by Stephen Karam

Directed by PJ Paparelli

Thursdays, Fridays at 8pm

Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm

Sundays at 8pm

EXTENDED thru February 1st

Buy Tickets at

For more reviews and information on theatre in Chicago, visit Theatre in Chicago.


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