In Case You Missed It: Why Off-Broadway's The Humans Is Transferring to Broadway

News   In Case You Missed It: Why Off-Broadway's The Humans Is Transferring to Broadway The Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Stephen Karam's new comedy-drama The Humans, about a fraught family gathering during Thanksgiving, opened Oct. 25 at the Laura Pels Theatre to critical huzzahs.

The cast features Cassie Beck, Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Lauren Klein, Arian Moayed and Sarah Steele, and the Times said that "all the actors in The Humans are at their best."

Newsday said, "Stephen Karam is not just another playwright and The Humans, his third play nurtured under the Roundabout Theatre's Off-Broadway wing, dares to assemble the usual bickering and raw nerves for what at first seems a hackneyed situation. In just 90 minutes of overlapping wit, tenderness and blistering brutality, however, Karam, director Joe Mantello and six expert actors — including the masterly Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell as the mother and father — walk us up to the edge of the abyss."

Deadline said, "The Humans — the title tells us everything we need to know about the author's empathy for these folks — is tremendously exciting theater. Karam's fine sophomore play Sons Of The Prophet was a Pulitzer finalist; The Humans takes him to an even higher level, and it deserves a wider audience. You won't see a better play this year."

Producer Scott Rudin heard the raves as they wafted into his well-appointed office and almost immediately made plans for a Broadway transfer. According to The Hollywood Reporter, an early 2016 Broadway arrival is expected. No dates or theatre have been announced. THR speculates that the intimate, Manhattan-set play will take up residence at the Helen Hayes Theatre, currently home to Dames at Sea, which opened last week to weak reviews.

The production would mark Karam's Broadway playwriting debut. His last play, Sons of the Prophet, was widely praised but did not budge from Off-Broadway.

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There were two Broadway openings this week. The first was the Broadway debut of A.R. Gurney's 1995 comedy Sylvia, starring Annaleigh Ashford as the title pooch, and Matthew Broderick as the midlife-crisis-suffering human who owns and loves her. Daniel Sullivan directed.

Associated Press' Mark Kennedy took a pun pill before penning its notice, writing, "Man's best friend may never have a better tail than A.R. Gurney's charming play… It helps when you have a hot dog in the title role and Annaleigh Ashford, a new Tony Award winner, is at the top of her co-me-tick game. She's off and running...Daniel Sullivan directs with howling success." Uh-huh.

Critics loved Ashford best of everything in the production. Variety said the actress "does her considerable bit by finding realistic human actions suggestive of doggy behavior...So long as she's jumping all over the furniture, slobbering all over Greg, and turning Kate's new shoes into chew-toys, Sylvia is innocently adorable."

Robert Sella, Julie White, Matthew Broderick and Annaleigh Ashford
Robert Sella, Julie White, Matthew Broderick and Annaleigh Ashford Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The Times, however, was not sold on Ashford's co-star: "Mr. Broderick has become something of a frustrating puzzle. For more than 10 years now, he has been turning in variations on the same coy performance, employing a curdled, boyish and weirdly artificial voice...As Greg...Mr. Broderick gives a fine performance as a gentle, loving man coming slightly unmoored. But the voice kept pulling me out of the performance."

Moreover, most reviewers couldn't get past the thinness of the play. Wrote Hollywood Reporter, "Once the rambunctious dog impersonation has worked its initial magic, it soon becomes apparent that the play is a very shallow bowl of kibble."

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Roundabout Theatre Company's Broadway revival of Thérèse Raquin followed, opening Oct. 29 at Studio 54, with Keira Knightley in the title role of the adulterous, doomed woman taken from Emile Zola's famous novel.

Reviews were mixed about nearly everything: the direction, the production, Knightley's performance, whether the central lovers had sexual chemistry or not. Every sort of opinion was voiced.

"Thérèse Raquin takes the lesson of its plot's inexorability a bit too much to heart," opined the Times. "The show is so determined to demonstrate how destiny never relaxes its stranglehold on its characters that any sparks of pleasure are snuffed out almost before they appear."

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Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

"Knightley's Thérèse has the passive, chiseled face of a cameo or a woman frozen on an old coin," said Newsday. "Just watching her watch the others is meaningful...Director Evan Cabnet, in his highest-profile assignment as a Roundabout associate artist, meticulously sculpts the many scenes into a seamless, multi-textured, closed universe that opens up when characters venture into the perilous outside world with its beckoning river."

Hollywood Reporter, echoing other reviews, singled out the design for praise: "No disrespect to Keira Knightley, whose bristling performance in the title role of Therese Raquin ranges compellingly from suffocated imprisonment through ecstatic liberation to haunted hysteria, but the real star of director Evan Cabnet's Broadway production is the design team. Beginning with an austere canvas of deadening gray that engulfs the play's antiheroine, Beowulf Boritt's imaginative sets — daubed in lighting designer Keith Parham's painterly shadings — boldly evoke the loveless marriage at the center of Emile Zola's novel."

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Eugene O'Neill's one-act Hughie is all about the gambler Erie, who talks a blue streak, gnawing off the ear of the Night Clerk in the shabby hotel he's staying at. It's a matter of little importance who plays the clerk, as long as the actor can stay awake.

Nonetheless, for the upcoming Broadway revival of the play, starring Forest Whitaker as Erie (in his Broadway debut), one of the best stage actors in the business has nabbed the part.

Frank Wood (Side Man, Clybourne Park) will play the nearly silent audience to Erie's ramblings. Wood won the Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Play for his work in Side Man.

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