Above: Richard Thomas, Pamela Reed, Daisy Eagan, Luis Vega and Therese Plaehn in “The Humans.” (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)
By Michael Morain
While the actor Luis Vega set out last fall on the national tour of “The Humans,” a play about a family in the midst several personal storms, his real family was in Puerto Rico, slogging through the all-too-real aftermath of Hurricane Maria. He kept in touch over the phone, when it worked, and thought of them often.
“My brother came to see the show here in Boston, and it was great to share this with him,” Vega said last week over the phone, “but we couldn’t help but think about our own family.”
Turns out, they aren’t alone. Most audiences see their own families reflected in the play, Vega said, no matter what particular storms they weather. He expects Iowans will respond the same way when the tour visits the Des Moines Civic Center April 3-8.
“It’s all about the individual struggles we go through and the power and the strength that family gives us to persevere,” the actor said.
The play by Stephen Karam won four Tonys in 2016 and probably would have scored a Pulitzer, too, were it not for a little show called “Hamilton.” It’s about a Pennsylvania man named Erik Blake (Richard Thomas from “The Waltons”) who gathers his Irish-Catholic family to celebrate Thanksgiving in the shabby, barely furnished New York City apartment that his youngest daughter shares with her boyfriend (played by Vega).
As the 90-minute show unfolds in real time, members of the Blake clan quietly reveal the fears they are struggling to overcome. The younger daughter might have to ditch her dream to become a musician. Her older sister just broke up with her girlfriend and is facing a scary medical ordeal. Their parents have money problems they can no longer hide and are worn out from taking care of Erik’s mother, old Momo, who is lost in an Alzheimer’s fog.
The sisters are just stepping into adulthood. Their parents are trying to pass on their wisdom and faith in a way their kids won’t reject.
“It’s funny, too,” Vega said. “If you’ve ever sat down for a family meal, it’s going to ring true to you.”
The actors sat down for a meal of their own this past Thanksgiving, when the tour was in Seattle. They gathered at a restaurant that offered a buffet with turkey and all the trimmings.”We eat real food onstage, so that was the last thing we wanted to eat on Thanksgiving,” he said. “But it was nice to get together, actually. We’ve become a family, too.”
“The Humans” runs April 3-8 at the Des Moines Civic Center. $35-$112; www.desmoinesperformingarts.org