What does it take to open our hearts, express deepest thoughts, share and be vulnerable? And what are the rewards if we can indeed get to that level of openness and honesty? How to Be a Human explores just that in one of the most unique formats imaginable. Allow yourself 75 minutes and this amazing cast will take you on an unforgettable journey blurring the lines between story, your own approach to life, and life-changing affirmations.
The program’s description of being, “based on interviews with fascinating local seniors” is accurate, of course, but does not do the piece justice. The writers and directors ratchet up the stakes by providing more than simple narration. The set-up is such that the six characters are unwittingly put in a position where they must role play scenes that are based on real interviews. It’s up to the characters to explore what to do with the information, who plays what role and how to make it come alive in an improv format, and this is where magic happens. As the actors dig into the roles, they often have to shift their points of view, start over and dig deeper, ultimately exposing their own “stuff” that they’re dealing with. The description sounds abstract, but when the scene is on its feet with the actors immersing themselves in “discovery in the moment,” this is “experiential theater” at its finest, totally different from the usual fare.
The ensemble works brilliantly together – so well in fact that it’s hard to tell where they end and the exquisite direction by Ali Miller and Melanie St. Ours begins. Elliott Kashner, Angela McLaughlin, Lynette Rathnam, Narlyia Sterling and Adam Williams portray a variety of characters including one with a disheveled manner and appearance later revealed to be in recovery, a hell-in-heels tough bee-atch who doesn’t take nothing off nobody, and a wise-cracking smart –ass who hides behind a serious denial shield, among others. A sixth actor is non-credited but joins from the audience mid-stream which enhances the fluid and diverse casting approach even more. To their credit, the actors make it look easy, but its actually a triple –layered character portrayal – actors portraying characters, who take on various role-playing assignments for a stunning effect.
The stories could have reflected any time, but the poignancy of hearing the older voices and their stories when they were as young as the actors reinforces the poignancy of the life experiences. The enactments as impromptu role-play bring them to life as front and center situations. Whether dealing with the harsh realities of segregation, gender inequity, friendship, love and war, as the actor presents a more honest portrayal, the closer he or she comes to self-healing and a sense of being “human.” It’s a remarkable transformation.
And because of the brilliant set-up, we are all included in the session. From the very beginning, the actors shatter the “fourth wall” by acknowledging the audience, engaging in dialog, even emerging from the seats. At the end when they’ve accomplished their objectives they blend back into the crowd. I swear it makes me goosey just recalling it. In fact, I might just have to see it again to make sure I wasn’t making up the entire wonderful experience, if for nothing else than to support the production company’s message that being human is “…a responsibility… to live with conviction and intention.” How cool is that? If you’re a wise human, you won’t miss it.
How to Be a Human
Compiled by forhumansbyhumans Project
Directed by Ali Miller and Melanie St. Ours
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Running Time: 75 minutes with no intermission
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?