Better than Eclipsed??!! The Humans leave me disappointed at the Hampstead Theatre
“You can never come back”
Huh. The Humans arrived at Hampstead Theatre with the glow of its 2016 Tony Award for Best Play still shining, particularly as its original cast have come over the Atlantic with it. And while I’m hugely appreciate of the opportunity to see another member of The Good Fight cast onstage, and the cast as a whole really were excellent, the play left me somewhat cold and unconvinced of its prize-winning pedigree.
On entering, the heart sinks at the realisation that we’re relying on the much-abused trope of a family coming together around the dinner table and sure enough, beneath the façade of familial jokes and enforced holiday bonhomie (it’s Thanksgiving natch), there’s a whole world of secrets and lies waiting to burst forth. Writer Stephen Karam also layers in a trip to a whole other genre which certainly grabs the attention, but that’s not to say that it works.
Joe Mantello’s production relies on a naturalistic feel, aided by a strong design by David Zinn which makes great use of the Hampstead’s flexible stage, and the well-oiled chemistry between the ensemble is evident to see as their chat overlaps each other and really does have that feel of always being on the edge of family squabble. But when the twist comes, it fell flat for me, a turn towards the ridiculous rather than the sublime as much of what has gone before is undermined by the climax.
There’s no doubting the pleasures in seeing the likes of Sarah Steele (Marissa!), Jayne Houdyshell and Reed Birney on the relative intimacy here. And there’s kernels of something interesting in the exploration of the corrosive nature of economic uncertainty on different generations. But it feels hard to credit that The Humans really was the best of the bunch that also included Eclipsed, King Charles III and The Father.