Fresh Eyes on THE HUMANS, 4th Installment
This past week has been all about tech and timing. There is an exceptional amount of overlapping dialogue in THE HUMANS, combined with scenes happening simultaneously on two levels. The play calls for a hyper-naturalistic performance style and from the audience, it feels very much like we’re voyeurs watching a real family dinner unfold. Yet to seem so natural requires precision timing and rigorous attention. Garrett Brown and Scott Dunn each saw part of the technical rehearsals, and share their observations below.
Over the past 4 weeks, the cast and crew of THE HUMANS have been stretching themselves, building towards tonight: their final tech rehearsal. As I sit in the middle of the audience, the builders are putting the finishing touches on the theatre, screwing in seats, placing props, and just checking what needs to be fixed.
At first, the set looks sparse: like it needs more decorations, more props. But then I realize that it’s “too” empty. This is the home of a couple that doesn’t know what to do with their life, a family who has tried to hide from their unhappiness with things (the moving truck is just in transit, they swear). It is only when they return to the essentials can they confront the issues facing their souls. Issues like finances, and heath, and the fear of being alone.
Being in the actual theatre, I realize exactly how close I am to the audience. The seats are almost horizontal and shoved up to the stage. Even though I’m in the center of the audience, I feel like I am in the lives of the family. Watching them, becoming a part of them.
Everyone is in costume, but the biggest change would be Momo, the matriarch of the family. While everyone else is dressed up in street clothes (or clothes one could imagine the actors wearing on a daily basis) Vana O’Brien has transformed: she looks years older, scared and unfamiliar of the world around her. Momo is a fragile rock for the family, and even though she may not have the most lines, the family steadies themselves on her.
THE HUMANS is one of the strongest pieces of work written in recent theatre history, and this rendition by Artist Repertory Theatre is a strong reminder of the strength of family, and the consequences of secrets. I recommend it highly.
There is a particular fragrance drifting through a performance space as a show approaches its opening night. It was the second thing I noticed after walking into the theater. The bouquet of Tech Week. Saw dust. Paint. The furtive tears of actors. (One guesses.) Light. (You can’t smell light.) Oh, but you can! It singes the air as it turns it bright.
The nearly completed set – the first thing I noticed – brings with it moments of spontaneity and discovery as the actors navigate and play in their new space, along with it opportunities to re-block how everybody moves around the stage at any given time.
Tech rehearsals, though fascinating, can be almost painstakingly slow. New challenges are discovered and need to be discussed to figure out the way through them. Nuances are added. “Let’s distress the cutting board so it doesn’t look brand new.” Sight lines from every section of the audience are considered. “Take the wheelchair upstage half a foot and quarter-turn it out. There.” Discussions over props occur to ensure they serve the purpose of the characters and of the show overall. This was likely the longest conversation about a shopping bag and tissue paper I had ever witnessed.
Soon arrives Thanksgiving for these characters and for us all. As with all great theatre, we see within them what we see within ourselves. In our own families. What isn’t an exact mirror evokes a memory nonetheless. What greater drama is there but family?