“The Humans” offers an intimate peek into the lives of the Blakes, an Irish-Catholic family from Scranton.
The 90-minute show takes place during Thanksgiving dinner in New York City.
Daughter Brigid invites her older sister and aging parents, with dementia-afflicted grandmother in tow, to celebrate in the new apartment she shares with her fiancé.
“The Humans” packs a plethora of contemporary issues into its tight runtime.
Financial worries, health problems, relationship struggles, religion, the cultural divide between boomers and millennials, and the lingering unease in a post-9/11 America are all accounted for in this smart, surprisingly hilarious, and gut-wrenching show.
The script, which snagged a 2016 Tony Award for Best Play, carries plenty of merit on its own.
Tackling so many issues without veering into the land of cheesy melodrama is not an easy feat, but playwright Stephen Karam, a Scranton native, manages to pull it off.
The care with which these very flawed, very human characters are drawn keeps the play realistic and relatable.
Steve Ropski, Ph.D., a professor in the biology department at Gannon University, plays Erik Blake, the well meaning but often caustic patriarch of the Blake family.
Erik spends part of the dinner attending to his dementia-addled, wheelchair-bound mother, affectionately dubbed “Momo.”
Momo, portrayed by Betsy Butoryak, does an incredible job in a difficult role.
Her character spends most of the play stroking her blanket and muttering nonsensically, with rare moments of lucidity that make her condition even harder to swallow.
Ropski brings life experience to this part of his role, having cared for his own mother in the depths of dementia.
“So, this is acting, but at the same time, I feel like I’m caring for my own mom again, to some degree,” said Ropski. “When [Momo] has outbursts, I try and calm her down the same way I would maybe try and calm my mom down, when she’d get a little upset and boisterous and say things she shouldn’t say, when the filter’s gone.”
The fantastic cast brings their best in a show with constant ups and downs, where ab-forming laughter is followed immediately by waves of sadness.
No audience member will see this play through the same set of eyes.
For example, the show has a particularly explosive part that left my friend beside me doubled over with laughter while I was ugly-crying into my shirt.
My past experiences with my own family really colored the way I saw that scene.
Ropski confirmed the uncanny ability of this play to bring personal experiences to the surface.
Though the Blakes are drawn with ethnic, religious and geographic specificity, the universal themes of coping with loss, familial misunderstandings, wanting the best for your children and making mistakes despite having grander idealism can resonate with anyone.
“When I was looking at reviews of the show, people would say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s my mom. Or that’s my dad, that’s my sister, that’s my uncle,’” Ropski added. “I’d just say, be ready to see your family in the show.”
Catch “The Humans” Friday and Saturday, and Feb. 1-2 at 8 p.m. or Feb. 3 at 2 p.m.
Dramashop’s theater is located on the second floor of the Renaissance Center, 1001 State St.
Tickets are $5 with student ID.