The limited run of Stephen Karam’s Tony award-winning play The Humans this week may just be the perfect theatrical experience for a White Rock audience with the COVID-19 blues, director Rebekah MacEwan said.
Performances of White Rock Players Club’s first post-pandemic, script-in-hand reading will be Thursday, Aug. 20 and Friday, Aug. 21 at 8 p.m., with a matinee presentation at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 22, at the White Rock Playhouse, 1532 Johnston Rd.
First, MacEwan said, it’s a joyous return to live theatrical activity for both actors and audience alike – albeit with strict social distancing and other health protection protocols in place both on-stage and in the auditorium.
“It’s proof the show will go on, in some format or other,” she said, with a laugh.
And the play she has chosen – billed as a comedy, she noted – is a very realistic, conversational, contemporary slice-of-life piece, with highly relatable characters, taking place in real time over a 90-minute period, with no intermission.
“It’s all about families and families being together – which we’re all going through at this time,” she said.
As the title The Humans suggests, there are strongly universal themes that emerge.
Scene of the 2016 play is a family Thanksgiving dinner in a downstairs two-level apartment in lower Manhattan.
Erik Blake (Andy Wood) is bringing his devoutly religious wife Dierdre (Michelle Collier) and his mother, who is developing dementia (Patte Rust), to the apartment of his youngest daughter, Brigid (Jenessa Galbraith).
Brigid has just moved into the quirky apartment with her boyfriend Richard (CTC award nominee Reginald Pillay), naturally raising conflicts around Erik and Dierdre’s parenting and Brigid’s independent lifestyle choices. Also at the table is Brigid’s older sister Aimee (Janine Guy, another CTC nominee), a lawyer who is trying to maintain her own social life while battling a chronic health situation.
Adding to the realism, MacEwan said, is that Karam’s script includes a lot of naturalistic, overlapping dialogue.
“You’re really stepping into the apartment and hearing what’s going on,” she said.
“It’s not all pleasant – there are a lot of ‘cringe’ moments, although it’s not exactly on the level of August, Osage County (a bitter tragi-comedy of family secrets recently produced by the White Rock Players Club).
“It’s like ‘go see someone else’s family – and maybe feel a bit better about your own’,” she laughed.
For her community theatre directing debut (although she has directed drama class productions as a teacher with the Traditional Learning Academy) MacEwan – frequently seen on the White Rock stage as an actor – said she was happy to be able to choose The Humans.
“I love the play – I was looking at it several years ago as something to do with my students,” she said.
She’s also happy that the COVID-19 situation meant she could hand-pick her cast, rather than go the usual route of open auditions.
While a couple of actors she approached decided against it due to understandable health concerns, MacEwan said, all of the actors she ultimately cast in the roles leaped at the opportunity to get back on stage.
“I’m very happy with this cast – these are all people whose work I know, that I have worked with before in one way. I trust the people in the roles. They make my job very easy.
“When we got together at the playhouse to take photos, there was a lot of joy on their faces – it was like I’d given them the biggest gift of the summer.”
MacEwan said she felt much the same way when producer Fred Partridge called her at the beginning of the summer, asking if she would be interested in directing a staged reading.
“I’d just been saying to my husband, ‘I miss my theatre people,’” she said. “After Fred called, my husband looked at me and said, ‘I think you’d better do this.’ Everything was aligned.”
For all of its focus on problems that will be close to home for many, The Humans is ultimately a positive piece, MacEwan said.
“There is some sort of resolution, a choosing to step in and help,” she said.
“There’s a sense of ‘OK – we can keep going,’ which is very appropriate to the present situation. We all have to cling on to hope.”
Auditorium seating will be limited to 50 people for each performance (at $10 per ticket). Audience members will be asked to wear masks and, according to the WRPC website, seating is available in a random assortment of groups of two, three and four (the seating layout will provide a minimum six-foot separation between parties).
The public should also note there will be no intermission or concession during the show (although complimentary bottled water will be provided) and other COVID-19 protocols will be in place for the protection of patrons, actors and volunteers.
Tickets are available through the box office, 604-536-7535, or online at whiterockplayers.ca