THE HUMANS now playing at San Diego Repertory Theatre through February 2nd is a family comedy-drama that proves even fictional holiday celebrations can be emotional minefields to navigate.

The cast of THE HUMANS (left to right): Amanda Sitton, Kate Rose Reynolds, Rosina Reynolds, Jeff Meek, Elizabeth Dennehy, Brian Mackey.
Photo Credit: Jim Carmody

The Blake family is celebrating Thanksgiving at the newly moved in NY apartment of daughter Brigid (Kate Rose Reynolds) and her boyfriend Richard (Brian Mackey). Parents Erik and Deirdre (Jeffrey Meek and Elizabeth Dennehy) come with Erik’s wheelchair-bound mother Momo (Rosina Reynolds, and their daughter Aimee (Amanda Sitton). They all come with their own baggage and struggles; Erik and Deirdre have a secret they have yet to disclose to their daughters, Momo has slipped in dementia, and Aimee is grappling with facing surgery while having just been dumped by her law firm employer and then her longtime girlfriend one after the other.

Everything starts out fairly ordinary, as parents fuss over the new apartment’s location and safety, and bring some housewarming gifts that focus on their lifestyle views rather than Brigid and Richard’s. Bickering and good nurtured teasing lead to hidden tensions being heightened while mysterious neighborly noises (the elderly neighbor could have a pet elephant for the stomping and shaking) ratchet up the tension. As the lights and noises seem to hit at the most inopportune and unsettling moments it’s easy to think maybe there is a hint of supernatural malevolence underscoring this family’s holiday festivities.

Credit to director Todd Salovey and this talented, charming, and excellent cast for keeping these characters relatable and likable as the dinner rolls along. Sitton is honest and heartbreaking as Aimee, Reynolds is great as the talented but disheartened musical Brigid, and Mackey is likable as the boyfriend trying to keep this family event on an even keel. Meek and Dennehey are moving as the parents struggling with the next act of their lives, and Reynolds is compelling as the tormented Momo.

The main issue is that the story floats along a line of thriller and family drama when it is both and neither all at the same time. Written by Stephen Karam the play doesn’t commit to either side enough for the supernatural allusions, mentions of the events of September 11th, 2001, or the family drama to hit in the emotional way they should. Mileage may vary based on how you feel exiting the theatre whether the climax is enough or if it leaves you wanting more.

THE HUMANS brings to mind the brilliance of Stephen King‘s early work; where the scariest things in life are really the human condition, and how everyone’s choices and empathy or; lack thereof impact everyone else. The play may not be as successful as King’s novels in shining a light on existential human fears but it does prove that supernatural causes or not, fictional family holiday dinners may leave you to unnerved to sleep.

THE HUMANS is playing at San Diego Repertory Theatre through February 2nd. For ticket and showtime information go to www.sdrep.org

For reviews of past San Diego Repertory Shows click here