Seattle Rep’s ‘The Humans’ a potent portrait of a middle-class family under pressure

Stephen Karam’s justly acclaimed play “The Humans” tells an emblematic story about the American middle class more persuasively than many a demographic chart or statistical analysis.

Much has been written about the imperiled American middle class. But Stephen Karam’s justly acclaimed play “The Humans” tells an emblematic story about this broad stratum of our society more persuasively than many a demographic chart or statistical analysis.

Homespun and spooky, tender and unsparing, this group portrait of an Irish American clan under pressure has earned a Tony Award and other accolades. The new Seattle Repertory Theatre production of the 2015 play has the same well-known director (Joe Mantello) as the Broadway version, but a mostly new cast that will tour with the show after its Seattle run.

Though the pacing seems a bit rushed, and the actors not yet as finely attuned to interpersonal nuances as the Broadway cast, the performances are committed and potent nonetheless.

THEATER REVIEW

‘The Humans’

By Stephen Karam. Through Dec. 17 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center; tickets start at $17 (206-443-2222 or seattlerep.org)

“The Humans” is informed by the playwright’s own background as the son of a Rust Belt family. And it hangs on that perennial hook: the dysfunctional family holiday gathering, in this case a Thanksgiving dinner.

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However, Karam adds subtle new shades and textures to an old formula. Though the shadow of the 9/11 terror attacks lingers at the edges, “The Humans” doesn’t directly reference current events. But it can’t help but bring to mind the election of a president who promised more prosperity to Americans like the play’s fictional Blake clan. And it compassionately (and sometimes hilariously) portrays both the keen disappointment and fraying pride of people trying very hard to keep their heads above water.

The stock market may be booming, but the Blakes are feeling a lot less stable and more anxious than the rising GDP suggests. Their work, love, housing, health and emotional problems are sometimes joked about, but are actually eating away at them.

The play opens as Scranton, Pennsylvania, couple Deidre (Pamela Reed) and Erik Blake (Richard Thomas) arrive at the bleak, semi-basement apartment of their composer daughter Brigid (Daisy Eagan), in a gritty section of Manhattan’s Chinatown. (Bainbridge…

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