The Humans—Stephen Karam’s Tony Award–winning family dramedy—was slated for a run at Olney Theatre Center this season, but that physical production was shelved this summer when the COVID would not quit. Now Olney, recipient of 27 nominations for the 2020 Helen Hayes Awards, has released a unique online version of The Humans directed by Aaron Posner filmed during quarantine with the actors in six different locations.
That reconceived version is now available for streaming via the Olney Theatre Center website for $35 through October 4.
Says Jason Loewith, Artistic Director of Olney Theatre Center, “When in June it became clear we wouldn’t be able to mount the live production, we tore the scenery down and threw it in the dumpster. But we decided to use some of the Paycheck Protection Funds we received to pay the team to rehearse for two more weeks to create this unique virtual production of the play.”
On obtaining the rights to stream the production, Loewith said, “I extend my humble gratitude to playwright Stephen Karam, who has allowed this production to go forward virtually. Playwrights are rightfully protective of letting their work appear in the unguarded, often-unticketed wilds of the internet. I hope our efforts here reward his trust in us. I think what convinced Stephen to grant permission, finally, was the deal we offered the actors’ union. For every week we stream The Humans, Olney Theatre Center is contributing to the health funds on behalf of the actors.
About the production he says, “There are moments in Stephen Karam’s play that feel so utterly of the moment it’s hard to believe he didn’t write it at the start of the pandemic. Financial insecurity and financial inequity? Check. Nightmares and the terrifying unknown lurking just beyond the walls of our homes? Sounds awfully familiar. Families clinging together to combat near-inescapable anxiety? You bet. If the ‘drama’ parts of Karam’s comedy-drama resonate more forcefully today, who should be surprised? It’s 2020, and The Humans is a play about a middle-class family navigating our fearful world. When Momo, the family’s dementia-addled grandmother, suddenly blurts out, ‘You can never come back you can never come back you can never co me back…’, I used to think it was just a colorful playwright’s flourish. Six months into the pandemic, I’m shattered by it.”
The Humans tells the story of the Blakes, a middle-class American family celebrating a most unusual Thanksgiving. This year, they gather in New York City at youngest daughter Brigid’s Chinatown apartment — a basement duplex that would feel like a bargain if not for the lack of sunlight and the sudden, unexplained, loud noises coming from upstairs. Normally they celebrate in Scranton, but the break with tradition is just one of many disruptions with which they’re forced to contend. Stephen Karam’s brilliant play delivers both the warm comfort of family and thoroughly modern anxiety about what’s on the other side of the wall.
The ensemble consists of some of DC’s finest actors. Dani Stoller (The Crucible) plays Brigid, the youngest daughter, who is hosting the meal with her boyfriend Richard, played by Jonathan Raviv (The Band’s Visit). Mitchell Hébert (Cabaret) is Erik, the father of the tribe, harboring his own secrets, and Sherri L. Edelen (How to Succeed…) is his wife Deirdre, who often serves as the target of her children’s teasing. Kimberly Gilbert, (Harper in the 2016 Angels in America co-production with Round House Theatre) is Aimee, the elder Blake daughter suffering from a variety of personal, professional, and physical ailments. The family unit is completed by Catie Flye, making her first OTC appearance in years, as Momo, the wheelchair-bound grandmother, mumbling through a haze of dementia.
Posner’s creative team includes Paige Hathaway (Set Design), whose model of the originally designed (and 75% built) set serves as the backdrop for the production. Other OTC veterans include Max Doolittle (Lighting Design), and Sarah O’Halloran (Sound Design) whose work became even more crucial to the production. Kelsey Hunt (Costume Design) makes her OTC debut along with Stage Manager Tashiana Quiñones. Emily Jerison joined the team when it entered the virtual realm as Video Editor.
ABOUT OLNEY THEATRE CENTER
Once a summer stock retreat in rural Maryland, Olney Theatre Center is now an award-winning, year-round regional theater surrounded in a 15-mile radius by 1.6 million people representing three of the most ethnically diverse counties in America. Since our founding in 1938, some of the biggest names in theater have appeared on our stages: from “Golden Era” stars like Helen Hayes and Tallulah Bankhead to contemporary artists like Sir Ian McKellen, Robin De Jesús, and many others. OTC welcomed Artistic Director Jason Loewith and Managing Director Debbie Ellinghaus in 2013 and 2014, respectively, who established a new artistic strategy to broaden programming with the goal of nurturing a diversity of voices and audiences. Olney Theatre Center now produces musicals and plays under the three rubrics of Classic, Contemporary, and Family programming. Since 2013 Olney Theatre Center has twice won the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Musical Production in addition receiving the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play and presenting six world premieres.
For more information, visit olneytheatre.org. Follow Olney Theatre Center on Twitter and Instagram @olneytheatre and on Facebook at facebook.com/olneytheatre.
Amy Kotkin’s review: Olney’s virtual ‘The Humans’ shines with fine performances