Stephen Karam’s The Humans made its debut in Chicago in 2014. Since that time, it’s subsequent Broadway production, directed by multi-award-winner Joe Mantello, picked up four Tony Awards (including Best Play) and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama in 2016. This week, the entire New York cast re-assembled for a season on London’s West End.
Back at home, The Humans is about to have its Australian premiere in a production (co-presented by MopHead Productions and Red Line Productions) at Sydney’s Old Fitz Theatre. Leading the production is Sydney Theatre Award-winning director Anthea Williams.
Williams tells Theatre People she is thrilled to direct what she describes as “a remarkable play”.
“It’s such a well written play, that’s why it has won so many awards,” she says. “And, to be honest, that has made my job easier.”
On first reading The Humans in 2016, Williams immediately wanted to direct it. It tells the story of the Blake family, who have assembled for Thanksgiving dinner at a family member’s Manhattan apartment. It’s far from being the first play about families reuniting for holiday occasions, so what does Williams think it is that sets this apart from those plays that have come before?
“This is a hard question to answer without giving away the plot, which is not a way of … telling your readers they’ll just have to come and see it – though, of course, they will,” she says. “One of the unique elements of the play is the thriller element. It’s really interesting how the word borrows from this genre, though I think it sits in the great tradition of American Family plays like Hir, which I directed for Belvoir last year.”
New York critic Jesse Green described The Humans as the most “human play I’ve ever seen about fear and disappointment and the attachments that transcend them”. Does Williams agree with that statement?
“Absolutely,” she says. “It’s such a real and complex piece. The characters are beautifully drawn and our cast have not only created a beautiful family but have created each individual character with the intricacy and love they deserve.”
The cast for The Humans’ Australian premiere season comprises Di Adams, Madeleine Jones, Diana McLean, Arky Michael, Reza Momenzada and Eloise Snape.
“They’re wonderful,” Williams says. “The work they’ve created is so funny and heartfelt.”
Of course, when The Humans played to great acclaim on Broadway, it did so in houses with hundreds of seats. When it opens in Sydney, the Australian production will play to audiences in the intimate Old Fitz Theatre. Williams believes the piece will translate well in the space.
“The play actually started in smaller venues but was such a success that it transferred to Broadway – the fact that every member of the cast signed on for a further season is a great testament to the show,” she says.
“The play is set in a tiny lightless basement apartment in Chinatown that the youngest member of the Blake family, Brigit, has only just moved into with her boyfriend, Ricard Saad. So, it’s thrilling to be staging it at The Fitz – the audience will feel like they are in the room with the Blake family. Some will almost be sitting at their Thanksgiving table with them.”
And is there an overarching message Williams hopes those who attend take away from The Humans?
“Well I’d prefer not to tell the audience what to feel and think, but let the work speak for itself,” she says. “What I know is that every person I’ve spoken to that has seen or read The Humans has had a profound connection to it. They’ve felt that it has spoken to events in their own life or to the timbre of their own families.”
THE HUMANS – SEASON DETAILS
Season: September 5 – October 6, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre (129 Dowling St, Woolloomooloo, NSW)
Performance Times: Tuesday – Saturday: 8:00PM; Sunday: 5:00PM; Saturday Matinees: 29 Sep and 6 Oct: 2:00PM