Unicorn presents laughter, horror, dysfunction in ‘The Human

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Cynthia Levin/The Unicorn Thea

New production at Kansas City’s Unicorn Theatre brings a Thanksgiving story where a family gathering unveils funny, painful, and horrific revelations as the festive day quickly spirals off course, leading to the discovery of family secrets, truths, and realities.

Playwright Stephen Karam’s play, “The Humans,” opened Saturday, March 9 at The Unicorn Theatre on the Levin stage to a full house. An enthusiastic crowd encountered another brilliant work produced and crafted by The Unicorn with Darren Sextro directing the challenging piece that will leave patrons guessing and spurring further discussion on the masterful theatrical piece just encountered.

Cynthia Levin/The Unicorn Theatre

“The Humans,” which runs through March 31, centers on a change in family traditions when, according to The Unicorn, “the Blake clan gathers for Thanksgiving dinner in lower Manhattan at their daughter’s new apartment. As darkness falls outside the ramshackle duplex, family tensions reach a boiling point and the secrets that bubble up threaten to change this modern American family forever.”

Bridid and Richard invite the family to spend Thanksgiving with them in their newly acquired duplex in NYC. As the family arrives, so too does their hidden treasure trove of dark surprises that make the festive day modulate from funny to sad, sad to shocking, shocking to pleasant, pleasant to dark, and so on.

Cynthia Levin/The Unicorn Theatre

The audience learns of a job loss, the progressing illness of the grandmother, the nightmarish dreams that keep the men from comforting nights, financial stress, infidelities, and the planned retirement home at the lake. “The Humans” presents a myriad of situations that many face and leaves them for the audience to reflect upon as the story continues. The thought provoking piece shows a mixed couple, a couple facing unforseen financial problems, the rising cost of health care, the kinds of problems many other Americans can and do face.

Cynthia Levin/The Unicorn Theatre

The family dynamics must remain strong and united as such realities become apparent. The author puts before the audience a mixed marriage, the ravages of Parkinson’s Disease, three different employment problems/situations, financial issues, marriage problems, an LGBQ relationship, and, just for good measure, religious beliefs. With all these topics, the play moves quickly as this ensemble cast undertook a unique piece that confronts all of the issues with no real resolution to any. Welcome to a typical family Thanksgiving family dinner!

“The Humans” sounds depressing when one sees the topics aforementioned, but as the director and cast played them, the humor, the horror, the surprise, and heart of the family provide a sturdy structure and framework in a context of “This, too, will pass.” While the audience will leave with plenty to discuss, the dynamics of the play is guaranteed to spur further thought and discussions.

Cynthia Levin/The Unicorn Theatre

Audiences need to pay attention closely for clues as the dialogue races among the characters. They do reveal some good foreshadowing lines to think about. With a 90 minute run time, the play goes quickly. The dialogue zips and jumps among the characters at race-horse speed as they argue, joke, laugh, and shock each other. The family dynamics and love amongst the family members cements the piece, yet their individual struggles will tug at the heart.

Cynthia Levin/The Unicorn Theatre

To say more about the plot would ruin the effect for upcoming audiences, but, rest assured, “The Humans” will entertain in the style of most Unicorn pieces. As a former educator, trying to figure how the play looked in written form was a complete puzzle until visiting with the cast after opening night. The play is reminiscent of family dinners where different conversations continue in other parts of the room, and a shocking revelation follows a humorous line in another conversation. Only those who see this play will understand the precision necessary to make this piece fly.

Attendees will enjoy “The Humans.” The play presents a lot of information in a short, compacted time and leaves the audience stunned. What one person sees and thinks may vary from the person next to him or her. “The Humans” is a unique play and not to be missed.

Cynthia Levin/The Unicorn Theatre

The actors all give strong performances and work so well together. Marc Liby and Cathy Barnett lead the cast. And even with few lines, Margaret Shelby as the Parkinson’s stricken grandmother reminded me so strongly of a family friend and her final years. The character broke my heart. And, those are only three of the characters. The balance of the cast created characters I have not seen from them before.

The cast includes Marc Liby as Eric Blake, Cathy Barnett as Deirdre Blake, Katie Karel as Aimee Blake, Ellen Kirk as Bridid Blake, Margaret Shelby as Fiona “Momo” Blake, L. Roi Hawkins as Richard Saad. The production team for “The Humans” is: Tanya Brown, stage manager, Jason Coale, scenic designer; Art Kent, lighting designer; Ian R. Crawford, costume designer; David Kiehl, sound designer, Eric Palmquist, properties designer, Boni Newberry, dramaturg; Chloe Robbins, production assistant; Abigayle Huggins, sound board operator/scenic paint charge.

Cynthia Levin/The Unicorn Theatre

“The Humans” continues at The Unicorn Theatre through March 31. For tickets, pricing, times, and “pay what you can” performances, check The Unicorn Theatre website.

Tags: “The Humans” review, The Unicorn Theatre, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

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