Monday, November 27, 2017

The Humans—Artists Rep—SW Portland

The Story of Us?!

This dark comedy is written by Stephen Karam and directed by Dámaso Rodriguez (Artists Rep’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. and 16th Ave., through December 17th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

After seeing this show, I am reminded of the line in “The Lion in Winter,” when Eleanor states, after a family squabble, “…what family doesn’t have its ups and downs.”  Very appropriate sentiment for this production, too.  Two other things struck me as well:  The way it is written (w/overlapping dialogue) and staged (in real time), giving it a certain authenticity that other stories of its ilk don’t have, placing you squarely in the room with them.  Also, it had a number of reflections to my own family, being also from an Irish-Catholic background, with siblings.  Both elements are, I believe, part of the point of this story, which is to connect with people/families in a very real way.

In my case, my Dad’s family was from the hill country of Virginia and, Mom’s, a mid-West dairy farm.  Myself, the eldest, and my two sisters and one brother, went to Catholic grammar school but have since all veered away from the Church.  Broken marriages, gay offspring, “living in sin,” struggling to survive, health problems, etc., are all part of our make-up, as well as the characters in Karam’s play.  Its uncanny how he has managed to reveal, what I assume are real conflicts in his own family, and yet be able to relate to all of us as viewers, as well.  It says to me, we are all connected and not so alien to each other as we may think.

In the Blake’s case, it is Thanksgiving, modern day, and the father, Erik (Robert Pescovitz), who works at a school, has a bad back and probably drinks too much, has arrived at the apartment house of their youngest daughter, Brigid (Quinlan Fitzgerald), a composer at heart but working as a bartender to pay the bills, and her boyfriend, Richard (John San Nicolas), studying to be a social worker, for this holiday.  In tow are also the eldest sister, Aimee (Val Landrum), who works in a law office, is having trouble connecting with her newest love, as well as some more personal problems.  There is also the girls’ Mom, Deirdre (Luisa Sermol), who has a very strict view of life because of her Catholic beliefs.  And, to round out this family gathering, is Erik’s Mom, “Momo” (Vana O’Brien), who skirts reality in her wheelchair-bound world, grasping at an existence that only she can sense.

They will laugh and fight and cry together, and separately, longing to be understood, and accepted.  They will all have their moments in the sun but equal time will be given over to the grayer side of life.  We will see, through their eyes, a world all too familiar, in which we may keep at arm’s length but they must embrace.  Secrets will be exposed, lives changed, as they “rage against the dying of the light.”  Telling more would be unfair, as this is a story to be experienced, not related in the third person.

Another aspect of this presentation that might not be so obvious, is that the sounds (designer, Phil Johnson) from the outside world seem to be deliberately intrusive, as if invading this imperfect but cushioned world, trying to get their attention, for better or worse, to promote change, not unlike the obelisk in “2011:  A Space Odyssey.”  The ending, which I liked, does seem to support this hypothesis.  Anyway, I might be wrong, but you can decide for yourself when you see it.

The setting (designer, the prolific and amazing, Megan Wilkerson) is quite a feat, as it is two stories in which action takes place on both of them, sometimes at the same time.  And the upper story must be equipped to handle people jumping on it, so must be solid.  Only hesitant note I heard from a couple audience members was that the edge of this story looked very precarious and they worried for the actors safely (although I’m sure those scenes were carefully rehearsed).

Rodriguez, as always, has cast it well and used the wide space and both stories very effectively.  His cast, some of them veterans of the company and past shows, fit into their roles like hand to glove, quite a perfect ensemble.  This is an emotionally charged show so one can’t help but be caught up in the momentum as it builds.  I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.