Thanksgiving feast takes center stage in ‘The Humans’
It’s not just the six actors who take center stage in “The Humans.” There’s also the dinner — an elaborate Thanksgiving spread with a whole turkey and all the trimmings.
For almost the entire length of the 1hour, 45-minute, one-act play presented by Pittsburgh Public Theater at the O’Reilly Theater Downtown, food shares the spotlight with the funny and poignantlines delivered by the actors.
Arash Mokhtar, who plays Richard Saad, scrapes, chops and arranges carrots for the crudite platter, sets the table, unwraps plastic glasses, bastes the turkey and then carves it, uncorks the bottle of “wine” and pops open the “champagne” before the family sits down for the meal.
His girlfriend Brigid (Valeri Mudek) and her sister Aimee (Courtney Balan) also help out in the kitchen by transferring the sides and clearing the table at the end of dinner. Their father Eric (J. Tucker Smith) has the job of downing the most amount of liquid — alternating between “beer,” “champagne” and water. And even his mother Momo (Cecelia Riddett), who has dementia, rouses from her near-slumber to have Ensure.
As the gravy and other foods are passed around the table, and between squabbles and laughter, there are conversations about superfoods, blueberries and blueberry doughnuts.
The hardest part of it all, Mr. Mokhtar says, is to stay on top of the kitchen work and say the lines. “You cannot go too slow or fast. There is a certain time frame within which the lines have to be delivered,” he says. “I have to cut, carve, pour and stay in the play; I cannot disconnect.”
Properties master Gay Kahkonen concurs with him. “Arash has to divide his attention between what he is saying, what everybody else is saying and what he’s doing. As he stirs the pot, he has to connect with a sentence in the script,” she says. “It’s tricky.”
That’s not the only tricky issue; everything needs to be believable. O’Reilly Theater seats 625 and with the stage being only a few feet from the audience, attention needs to be given to the smallest details. Not only does Mr. Mokhtar need to deliver his lines on time but also he cannot randomly slice the carrots or shred the bird to unrecognizable pieces. The kitchen has both a working stove (to keep the gravy and other sides warm) and refrigerator (to store ice in the freezer).
Even the bubblegum pink Peppermint Pig that is passed around the table to be smashed and eaten is the real deal. PPT got the pigs from Saratoga, N.Y., the place where the hard-candy confection is made. They also are being sold in the lobby (small, $8; medium, $17; and large, $21).
A concoction of blueberry juice and herbal tea is the “wine,” and “champagne” is a carbonated nonalcoholic cider. The beer? “Well, it’s very boring. It’s plain water in the beer glass bottle,” Ms. Kahkonen says.
The actors never get around to eating the vanilla cupcakes, chocolate croissants and the rugelach, and that’s a good thing because properties coordinator, Kelly Yann, created them with foam, tissue paper and felt. It has helped to keep the budget down. The cost of catering for the rehearsals and 38 shows is 50 percent of the props’ budget, Ms. Kahkonen says.
Although the beverages and desserts are fake, the turkey is not. A cooked 10-pound turkey is delivered in