We live in fearful times. Regardless of your politics, economic status, or religious beliefs, I think you’ll agree that since 9/11/2001, life in America has felt increasingly tenuous, difficult and dangerous. But that does not mean that there has been any lack of joy, hope and love.
In my humble opinion, The Humans is a capital-G Great play, and I think it will come to be regarded as one of the Great Plays of the American Theater. It is a DEATH OF A SALESMAN, or an OUR TOWN for our time. In 1938 Thornton Wilder found America in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. In 2014, Stephen Karam finds it in New York City, on the Lower East Side in Chinatown, at the Thanksgiving dinner of an Irish-American family.
Stephen Karam has been described as able to write plays that should not be as funny as they are. Mr. Karam writes about loss "and the messy, haphazard, necessary ways we get on with our lives.” He has said that he’s drawn to 'the strangeness in people' who live in a state of dread; it’s the psychological realism of the everyday, of our everyday.
And our everyday appears to be crumbling around us. Unless you are blessed to be a 1 percenter, it is too expensive to live today. Middle and lower class families are squeezed and struggle to make ends meet. Beyond friends and family, there really is no safety net in this country. A life of hard work, good education, a good job, and decent living don’t seem to be enough to guarantee you anything, especially in your later years. We live every day knowing how easy it is to make one mistake that can cost you everything. Your job, your family, your future.
The Humans is full of talk about depressing stuff like ailing elders, student loans, and making ends meet. But it is also full of love, laughter, jokes, funny insults, and innocent sniping. And somehow in the process of a Thanksgiving dinner, The Humans reveals how little we’ve changed in 200,000 years. How the same basic primal fears and terrors of poverty, bad health, loss of love, old age and death that confronted us then, continue to haunt us now.
Ultimately however, I find The Humans to be an incredibly optimistic and aspirational play. As human beings, the ability to face and act on our fears is our strength, and the only way that things can be made better, not only in our families, but also in our society and the world, is by finding the strength to face our fears and take action.