Playwright Stephen Karam has been winning accolades and his new work, The Humans, makes clear what the fuss is about. This is a comedy-drama that achieves both sides of the equation in a production skillfully directed by Joe Mantello.
Brigid (Sarah Steele), and her boyfriend, Rich (Arian Moayed), have just moved into a duplex apartment in a tenement building in Chinatown. Her parents, Erik (Reed Birney) and Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell) come from Scranton, Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving dinner, with their other daughter (a lesbian lawyer with colitis, facing problems on the job as well as a failed romance), played by Cassie Beck and Erik’s mother (who is in a wheelchair and suffers from dementia) (played by Lauren Klein).
The play is suffused with humor and sadness even if the ending is a bit of a letdown. For those who want to see a compelling new American play, this should be on your shortlist.
Richard Greenberg has written brilliant plays (such as Take Me Out), enjoyable ones (e.g., The Assembled Parties) but sometimes he strikes out. Our Mother’s Brief Affair starts out pleasantly enough but then takes a desperately wrong turn. To put it bluntly, this is a memory play you might not want to remember.
The play’s greatest asset is its star, Linda Lavin as the mother in question. She plays a Long Island housewife named Anna, who has two adult children: the twins Seth and Abby.
She is on her deathbed and reveals a love affair she had many years earlier and the scenes between her and her lover are reenacted on stage. It’s when the man’s identity is revealed that a real life incident from the Cold War is thrown into the mix, fodder for some cheap jokes.
Greenberg has not forgotten how to write witty dialogue but, in this instance, he has failed to work it into a coherent play. Lavin is delightful but neither she nor director Lynne Meadow can save Our Mother’s Brief Affair.
Hughie is a revival of a minor work by Eugene O’Neill. A two character play, running about one hour without intermission, it’s mostly a monologue. The title character (a hotel clerk) has died before the action begins. In a decaying Manhattan hotel (a wonderful set by Christopher Oram), a broken down gambler named Erie Mills speaks to Hughie’s replacement about the deceased. When the play begins, Mills is returning from a five-day drinking binge he went on when his friend died.
Hughie was a family man and Mills is an outsider, a braggart who spins tales about his exploits with women and his occasional good luck at the track. He was attracted to Hughie because he was able to pass himself off as a success to the gullible fellow. In Mills’ words, “[I]f every guy along Broadway who kids himself was to drop dead there wouldn’t be nobody left.”
Forest Whitaker makes his long awaited Broadway debut as Mills and the always excellent Frank Wood is the hotel clerk who is a good listener. The estimable Michael Grandage directed, but the play somehow feels less haunted than the set. Hopefully, Whitaker will return in a work that is better geared to his talents.