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CONTRIBUTED IMAGE“The Humans” has its Lehigh Valley premiere at Civic Theatre of Allentown, opening Feb. 7 and continuing through Feb. 23. CONTRIBUTED IMAGE“The Humans” has its Lehigh Valley premiere at Civic Theatre of Allentown, opening Feb. 7 and continuing through Feb. 23.
Will Morris, director, Civic Theatre’s “The Humans.” Will Morris, director, Civic Theatre’s “The Humans.”

Curtain Rises: ‘The Humans’ in LV premiere is ‘real life’ comedy-drama at Civic

Thursday, February 6, 2020 by DAVE HOWELL Special to The Press in Focus

“The Humans” premieres in the Lehigh Valley at Civic Theatre of Allentown, opening Feb. 7 and continuing through Feb. 23.

You may not have heard of the play, but you will probably find that the characters in the play are very familiar.

“You feel that they could be your friends,” says director Will Morris, Civic Theatre Associate Artistic Director-Production Manager, who’s directing the show at Civic.

“You can watch a character and say, ‘You know that person.’ You might even think that one of them is just like you,” observes Morris.

The play cannot be strictly called a comedy or a drama.

“It’s hard to classify it,” says Morris. “It’s like you are watching real life.

“You forget early on that you are watching a play, the way the characters are written. At times, it is funny, with great zingers. At other times, it is poignant, reflexive, or melancholy.

“The play does a great job of balancing all of that out, The audience will undoubtedly laugh, but they could also get a deeper emotional response,” says Morris, adding, “It is like life, a bit of a roller coaster, in this case a fun roller coaster.”

In the play, the Blake family is celebrating Thanksgiving. Erik Blake (Pat Kelly) has brought his wife Deirdre (Susan E. Sneeringer), mother Momo (Becky Engborg) and daughter Aimee (Rachel Williams) from Scranton to the Chinatown, New York City, apartment of Brigid Blake (Zoli Heft) and her boyfriend Richard (Colton Boyd).

“There is a big generational gap, with discussion about religion, how to live, and what hard work is. They are very much at odds with each other,” Morris says.

Because of the character-based interaction, “The Humans” might be called hyper-realistic. But it veers from that at times. One protracted scene has minimal dialogue.

Says Morris, “There is more going on underneath the situation than at first glance. There is something else that is supernatural.”

Reviews of previous productions of “The Humans” refer to an underlying terror beneath the family interaction. The stage set is two stories in a big but ramshackle apartment. Morris says that elements in the scenery reflect the unworldly aspects of the plot.

“The Humans,” written by Steven Karam, opened in Chicago in 2014 and off-Broadway in 2015. It transferred to Broadway in 2016 and won the Tony Award that year for Best Play. It was somewhat unusual fare for Broadway.

“They did not cast any stars, and it was less polished than Broadway usually wants things to be,” Morris says.

Morris thinks that the play’s characters might be more relatable to Lehigh Valley audiences than those in New York:

“It might be hard for viewers on Broadway to know particular people. The characters are blue-collar, rough around the edges. They are real to life, like reality TV.

“They have suffered from the decline of coal, an experience mirrored here [in the Lehigh Valley] by the death of steel,” says Morris.

The actors in the Civic Theatre production have said, “Things happen in the play that have happened in my life.” They came to recognize people who were like their portrayals. One of them texted Morris that “I just met Deirdre in the parking lot.”

The actors in the Civic show have become like a real family. “They worked early to ensure that a bond was created as genuinely and quickly as possible, and to learn that other people on stage have your back,” says Morris.

The play, set and performance dynamics in the Civic production closely follow earlier productions of “The Humans” productions because playwright Karam was very careful to explain how it should be presented.

“It’s almost impossible to deviate. The playwright is very specific about things like how lines overlap, where they overlap, and punctuation,” Morris says.

The ending (not to be revealed here) takes an unexpected turn.

“At that point, the play stops being about logic and intellect, and starts being about what you feel instinctively,” says Morris.

Morris says he feels differently about the play now than when he saw “The Humans” four years ago. He now sees that there are signposts in the plot pointing to the conclusion.

“The Humans,” 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb 7- Feb 23. There is no performance Feb 14, Main Stage, Nineteenth Street Theatre, Allentown. Tickets: Civic Theatre of Allentown box office, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, Nineteenth Street Theatre, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; civictheatre.com; 610-432-8943

“Curtain Rises” is a column about the theater, stage shows, the actors in them and the directors and artists who make them happen. Email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, pwillistein@tnonline.com