Before rehearsals for Stephen Karam‘s play The Humans even began, director Mark Cuddy made a point to get a few Blake family rules established with the cast. Because is it really a family Thanksgiving if there aren’t those little touchy subjects everyone knows not to bring up over dinner?
There are three rules which pretty much set the stage (yes, pun intended) for the whole of the play, two of which may strike as a bit ironic. The first and probably most contradictory of these Blake family rules is that there will be no self-pitying—or at least no voicing it. Everyone has got some kind of issue they’re bringing to the table (pun unapologetic). But as Deirdre points out, they could be homeless Bhutanese refugees. Things may not be stellar at the moment, but they’re not that bad.
It becomes quickly evident that each member of the family has something they do not want to talk about…and yet somehow everyone keeps ending up smack dab in the middle of each other’s business, whether it’s Deirdre voicing her opinion on Brigid and Rich’s relationship, someone asking Aimee how her colon issues are going, or everyone demanding to know what keeps Erik up at night. Rather than actually addressing these unmentionables, the cast have adopted the Blakes’ sort of habitual defense mechanism: deflecting with humor and making playful digs at each other. When someone laughs off a topic or starts joking around, everyone else knows to back off, maybe circle back later, maybe just never speak of it again. It’s a delicate system.
One familial aspect that has been fun for the cast to get into is the Blakes’ fundamental Irish-ness. For the characters, their Irish upbringing is both a place of common ground as well as a regular source of conflict. Religion, marriage, and the stringent morals of Irish Catholicism become some of those grating, kicked-under-the-rug subjects—particularly for Brigid, who has just moved in with the loving, perfectly committed boyfriend she is still positively not married to. And while it is hysterical, it also highlights a very raw, very real family dynamic. They clash, they banter, they hurt each other’s feelings…but at the end of the day they’re still family. They drink, sing songs, give blessings…but the most important rule is that they never lose faith in each other.
Another familial aspect of the play has been one of the most challenging aspects of the script; a lot of the time, the Blakes are interrupting each other or just talking all at once, as family members do. Sometimes there are full, entirely separate conversations being carried on in completely different parts of the house, but all at the same time. [Yes—a lot to listen to. Imagine having to memorize it.] I’ve had the honor of getting to sit in and run lines with our tremendous actors a few times now. And let me tell you…trying to say one’s lines at the right time, when maybe one’s family members are not there to say their lines at the right time, which is of course at the same time…needless to say, this script keeps you on your toes. To add to the chaos, all six actors are pretty much present for all ninety minutes of run time. No breaks, escapes, or steps offstage—life is happening at all times, and the audience gets to exist right there in that dingy little Chinatown basement apartment during all the cringey, heartfelt, beautiful, awful, human moments.