Great play! Right theater?

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Stephen Karam's family play "The Humans" is stunning.

The Blake family is assembling for Thanksgiving dinner. This year they are doing it at Brigid's new place in Manhattan. She's and her older boyfriend just moved into a sketchy but spacious apartment in Chinatown. Her sister Aimee has had a rough year. She’s up from Philly by herself. Mom & Dad and grandma MoMo in her wheelchair are up from Pennsylvania. It's going to be a folding table, paper napkin meal but at least the family is all together.

But this year feels a little different. Momo's dementia is getting the better of her and she's only really here some of the time. That's a weight on everyone. Aimee's got her own health issues too and a breakup. Mom & Dad seem a little distracted - there must be something up there. And being this close to the twin towers site brings back memories for the whole family - that was a close call. Then there are money issues.

Mr. Karam has written a painfully funny, deeply troubling look into a family at an inflection point - at just that moment when things may change forever. The forces at play, like the noise from the upstairs neighbor, feel larger than life and ominous. They are forces you'll recognize, they're human.

I want to tell you to buy a ticket to this play right now but I also need to tell you to buy a ticket up front because the Ahmanson is a less than ideal theater for this play.

While this is a Broadway touring production, it sits uncomfortably in the tough acoustics of the Ahmanson. I was sitting roughly 8 rows back from the stage and the production felt a little hazy. It's not that it doesn't play in a 1700 seat theater like the Ahmanson but it feels a little forced. Moments in the script that should be devastating feel more cerebral - it's like watching something through gauze. It's still worth the trip downtown but it's also worth the money to get a good seat in the front of the orchestra.

The tragedy here, at least beyond those plaguing the Blake family, is that "The Humans" is an ideal play for the more intimate Taper. The immediacy of a 750 seat theatre hugging this play would be electric. So why is this play in a house that's a little too big for it's own good?

Answer that and you'll uncover some key challenges for American theatre.

Typically, the Taper is booked with another show. But right now the Taper is vacant all summer (which is another story). So why not put it in there? "The Humans" is a Broadway tour so it's been designed to fit in and out of big theaters like the Ahmanson. The set demands it and the finances do too. Trying to cram a touring show into the Taper's unique architecture would require a whole new production - which would be too expensive. So the Taper sits empty and a play that deserves a more intimate house instead feels a little distant. It’s a Goldilocks conundrum of finding just the right size play for just the right theater.

You should still see "The Humans" just splurge for a really good seat.

"The Humans" plays at the Ahmanson Theatre downtown through July 29th.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes without an intermission.

Photo courtesy of Brigitte Lacombe.