THE HUMANS and La Pulperia

Set David Zinn, The Humans. Photo Sara Krulwich/NYT
Brigid Blake (Sarah Steele) and Richard Saad (Arian Moayed) moved in together and want to show off their duplex to the Blake family, visiting from Scranton, PA. On a neat dollhouse set, it seems a hopeful fresh start. The parents’ disappointment quickly turns it into a badly wired basement apartment in the floodwater zone. Oh look, it’s snowing! says the host hopefully, peering out the apartment's single window. But it turns out to be floating ash, as a neighbor has emptied an ashtray into the courtyard.

In spite of glimmers of humor, this Thanksgiving feast en famille, The Humans, is unrelievedly uncomfortable, a play that runs for two hours with no intermission. For the duration, Granny (Lauren Klein in the mainly-silent role of Momo) is parked onstage in in a wheelchair, drooling out of one side of her mouth.

Although Irish ballads are sung, the Blakes seem as Irish-American as the Sopranos. They share tragic problems with no dramatic context. The food in Pyrex dishes passed around the table looks gassy, and the bathroom is often evoked, with the previous occupant apologizing for the smell in there.

The action is frequently interrupted by a startlingly loud sound, like a bomb—never explained. The Humans can be nauseating, but the program comes with a warning in capital letters: “The play will be performed without an intermission. IF YOU LEAVE YOUR SEAT FOR ANY REASON DURING THE PERFORMANCE, YOU WILL NOT BE PERMITTED TO RETURN.”

A grounded and also funny character is the eldest, lawyer daughter played by Cassie Beck. Beck has a smart way of lightening things up—even though her character is overburdened by the playwright with a breakup, loss of her partner-track job, and uncerative colitis requiring a colectomy.

Jayne Houdyshell as the mother won the Tony for best featured actress. Houdyshell is hilarious when she discovers a mouse or cockroach. She lends a Shakespearean gravitas to the weakest lines, for instance as she reads the trite message Momo wrote before she lost her mind: "Dance more than I did. Drink less than I did. Go to church. Be good to everyone…".

Steele and Moayed are sweet as the young couple. What an ensemble of acting magnitude. There really should be a Tony Award for casting (Carrie Gardner, C.S.A.)! Reed Birney got a Tony as the father with the unpromising financial outlook. Also no surprise, David Zinn won for best scenic design. Young playwright Stephen Karam won the night’s fourth Tony for his play The Humans.

La Pulperia serves haute cuisine at moderate prices from a “borderless Latin menu.” We didn’t bother to take notes because everything we tried was so memorable. The signature appetizer is a light salmon brûlée, covered in a crisp burnt sugar shell and micro greens. Brazilian Moqueca Mixta (seafood with chorizo and soybean) is served in a large soup bowl with a halo of green coconut rice. This food is not heavy and is perfect for before a play. No bread is served or needed.

"Some people mistake us for a Mexican restaurant,” said our waiter from Puerto Rico, “so we added guacamole to the menu.” 

The grilled fish ribs are from a massive, prehistoric Caribbean fish. Next time we'll order that. Our grilled octopus was perfectly tender, and chewy, with a black crust. It came with a tasting of six vegetable cazuelitas, notably celery root gratin, eggplant chambota, and Russian potato salad with a Latin beat. Desserts are topped with ice cream made from tropical fruits cherimoya and lúcuma. 

The cocktail La Pulperia is pineapple, tequila, Cointreau, and jalapeno in a glass rimmed with black lava salt. Hibiscus Piscus is a deep red cocktail with chamomile tea, gin and pisco (brandy), with a rose bud floating on an ice slab.

La Pulperia’s bigger Second Avenue location offers a cooking and mixology class with chefs Carlos Barroz and Victor Medina in which you learn to prepare one dish and one cocktail. At the cavelike Theatre Row location there's a drag queen brunch on Sunday.