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Secret Life of Humans

From 31 critic and 65 member reviews
Members say: Intelligent, Absorbing, Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Great staging

About the show

Archeology, philosophy, and social history collide in 'Secret Life of Humans,' inspired by Yuval Harari's international bestseller, 'Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.' More…

In 1949, Dr. Jacob Bronowski installs a secret, alarmed room in his house. Fifty years later his grandson discovers his secrets, unearthing echoes from across six million years of human history, told from the perspective of a century in which every year is a revolutionary year. 

Theatre is Easy

“A visually stunning, highly innovative production of an exquisitely crafted drama...Byrne threads multiple timelines, with absolute clarity, into an ambitious examination of human inheritance...The play is rather short, but packs a massive punch. It's a cerebral experience, but I was moved to tears by the humanity of its relatable, flawed and complex characters...Meticulously designed to fit in an elaborate scheme, and to leave you with more questions than you came in with.” Full Review

New York Stage Review

"Brilliant David Byrne play...Yes, to some extent the 80-minute play that seems to go by in no time flat is a debate. It’s presented, however, with abundant dramatic wit that not only disguises the conflicting argument at its center but enhances it with additional human concerns...Chief among the drama’s sly aspects is the Ava-Jamie relationship...Expertly acted and directed by all." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

“The play comfortably jumps through time...The acting is first-rate all around, under the joint direction of the playwright and Stanley, and the staging is enhanced by a marvelous blend of mobile set design, projections, and some unexpected visual and physical twists that keep mind, eyes, and ears fully engaged. Whether you share Jacob's optimistic view of human potential or Ava's wary and jaundiced one, you will find a lot to mull over." Full Review


“There's no other show quite like this. It has an intriguing plot, a talented cast, and clever staging that makes the production totally unique...This is a mysterious and gripping story that sheds light on how people's attributes and failings are connected to the history of man...The cast of five is in complete command of their roles...A rare theatrical experience that shouldn't be missed.” Full Review

Gotham Playgoer

"The interplay between exposition of theory about the nature of humankind, biography and invented story is not always seamless...Despite some qualms about the play’s unevenness, I admire its high ambition and the high level of the production. The actors are all excellent...It’s a complex work that requires close attention, which most people will find worth the effort." Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"The characters are interesting enough and their conflicts drive a complex, multi-layered plot that begins strong...but then becomes less focused and less engaging...Deception, dissemblance, greed, self-serving and political motivation are examined in this important play. The drama raises rich questions that endure and demand answers...The cast successfully grapples with these questions with the assistance of a splendid creative team." Full Review

City Cabaret

“An imaginative set and screen projections guide the cast through a study of human life...Three non-linear time frames...intermingle in this search for the story of humanity...Visually the theories reveal themselves although the plot contains millennia of time and humanity into 90 minutes, directed with brisk theatricality by Byrne and Stanley...You won't find answers here but the complex questions continue in this challenging production.” Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"A gloriously executed production...We gladly share these vivid imaginations and concepts that this troupe of actors, especially the absolutely magnificent projection work by Zakk Hein, challenging our capacity to invest and dig in. It’s an exploration, most worthy of our time and energy, and one I would happily continue; to read and study more in hopes that I can take in this and all those questions posed within this quick 80 minute piece." Full Review

Off Off Online

"Coolly cerebral and beautifully staged...Byrne enjoys switching lenses, going from macro topics to micro experiences and back again...In one of several magical flourishes, a potentially quotidien dinner scene is staged as if in fast-forward mode...The cast is a well-oiled machine...Jamie is more plot device than fully formed character, but Strafford-Baker is able to find the man’s charms. Taylor’s Ava is warm around the edges with a cool center." Full Review


"An intriguing, often ironic look into human progress through an anthropological perspective. But the playwright ironically twists the characters’ perspectives. The result is a grim look at our propensity for war, violence, and species extinction...Byrne’s overarching irony and the theme of the play resound powerfully...Byrne and Kate Stanley, who co-direct, succinctly render this complicated work." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"An inspiring work...This fearless company addresses the big questions: Where did we come from? How can we apply our shared history to make our world better today?...Admittedly, the narrative involving science, philosophy and social evolution is heady, but co-directors Byrne and Kate Stanley make sure it is brought to vivid theatrical life. An able ensemble of six enacts the story." Full Review


"Thoughtfully acted and rigorously written, the play is situated at the intersection of science and philosophy...That high stakes atmosphere can threaten to consume Byrne's work, when characters speak in dialogue that seems to have been crafted to be as weighty as possible. But the intensely thoughtful writing has high points, to be sure and the ensemble members are reliably skillful in presenting even the denser speeches so that the meaning and feeling aren't lost among the words." Full Review

Theater Life

"[A] cross between a biodrama and a lecture on what it is to be human…Laughter arises at various places, the occasionally witty repartee balanced by…clever staging… Although the ideas don't dominate the evening as in more conventional discussion drama, they're always expressed in clear, accessible terms…The issues…are balanced with the human interactions of the characters themselves...Well-performed, generally engrossing, thoughtful, and humorous enough for its purposes." Full Review

The New York Times

"This multilayered drama is asking exactly the questions that need to be asked at this perilous moment in history...Not that this 80-minute production is outright pessimistic. Nor, while you’re watching it, is this hybrid of college lecture and dramatic demonstration all that irresistibly compelling. But it plants seeds of thought that keep growing in your imagination...The cast is more than solid, and the characters they play are drawn with nonjudgmental ambivalence." Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

"This slice of science-theater leaves the audience with a lot to think about if not a little whiplash. The grand ambition of the piece drives our interest...But the sense of possibility gives this devised show its momentum and spirit...Not all moments are equally strong but it moves at a clip and it is compulsively curious subject matter–what makes us human and how we got here...A rich exercise. It leaves you wanting to know more. Humanity’s persistent curiosity wins out." Full Review

Show Showdown

“Presented as either a lecture nestled in a drama or a drama nestled in a lecture...All of the arguments are laid out neatly and clearly...The theoretical parts of ‘Secret Life of Humans’ are smooth and well-done, but they tell us nothing new, nor do they ask new questions...The show was worth 90 minutes of my time for the acting and some truly charming stagecraft.” Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"It's easy to be entranced by Byrne's acute dialogue, as well as the fluid and visually exciting staging by him and Stanley; it isn't until the show is over that you might find yourself troubled by certain nagging questions...Given the script's constant shifts of focus and unwillingness to flesh out certain situations, the entire cast does remarkably well...Even if you're put off by this shaky dramaturgy, Bronowski remains a fascinating subject, and many of the play's passages are deeply engr... Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

"This is heady stuff, and as one might expect, it is a tall order to find clarity in delivering the analysis in dramatic terms. In some ways the result is successful, but it is also at times bogged down in its complexity and mixed time sequences in the staging...The overall thrust of 'Secret Life of Humans' comes across as somewhat muddled, as well as a lot to swallow in the course of the 80-minute intermission-less work, and it can leave viewers baffled as well as intrigued." Full Review

New York Stage Review

"Impressively constructed, eloquent and thought-provoking in its own right. Sadly, those qualities do not, in themselves, guarantee compelling drama...Despite its brevity, 'Secret Life' can seem ponderous; it’s as if in trying to give due weight to the big ideas he’s tackling, rooted in a non-fiction book, Byrne makes the characters he creates (or adapts from history) mere mouthpieces for points of view than fully fleshed out human beings." Full Review


"After a while, one wonders whether this ambitious show might have been better off without such concessions to conventional storytelling...'Secret Life of Humans' is at its most stimulating when it ignores the thinly characterized relationship and fairly unsurprising mystery at its center and becomes a free-ranging meditation on what defines us as human beings...'Secret Life of Humans' offers enough to leave us pondering anew some of the largest eternally burning questions of our time." Full Review


"However, while the play whose time scheme is very convoluted is easy to follow, Byrne along with the company of New Diorama Theatre seem to have played fast and loose with the facts, leaving us to wonder what else has been manufactured. The two philosophies that the play discusses (that mankind is working toward progress and that mankind is destroying itself) are a worthy theme but the plot and storyline appear to be nothing but a fiction." Full Review

Broadway Baby

for a previous production "An eclectic and beautiful production – 'Secret Life of Humans' combines a baffling diversity of genres into a single theatrical masterpiece...Nothing less than a theatrical triumph...The play is made especially meaningful by its graceful exploration of complex concepts...However, at no point does the injection of philosophical debate impede the fluid enjoyment of the performance. Seldom does a show manage to combine so many complex elements with such ease." Full Review

Time Out London

for a previous production “A deeply thoughtful show, which ripples with fascinating ideas and images. It’s all a bit ‘full on’ and might’ve been terribly dull, but Byrne’s adaptation purrs with purpose. There are two strands, which play off each other in increasingly interesting ways...Byrne and Stanley direct with care and panache and the set and screen projections riff brilliantly on the play’s central concerns...A show that inspires us...and continue to ask difficult questions.” Full Review

Theatre Weekly

for a previous production "It attempts to tell three, connected, stories all at once. The first takes place over the course of one evening, the second over a number of years, and the third across the entire history of humankind...It is a visually stunning production; the backdrop is a giant chalkboard and is often used for video projections, sometimes, it’s used for other things but I won’t ruin that surprise...As well as looking good, 'Secret Life of Humans' captures a curiosity within us all...A beautiful production." Full Review

The Guardian (UK)

for a previous production "Melding fact and fiction in comfortable fashion, New Diorama’s ambitious, intelligent, and moving show...There is almost too much here to be squeezed into the brief running time, but directors David Byrne and Kate Stanley do sterling work to tell a story that unfolds with thriller-like precision and has real visual flair...This is a show asking big questions and which has a genuine urgency...A questing intelligence in a piece that sees theatre as a place to tell stories and interrogate myths." Full Review

Absorbing, Clever, Exquisite, Ambitious, Great staging

See it if you love theater. This is one of the best shows I've ever seen as part of Brits Off-Broadway. The scope and staging are amazing.

Don't see it if you don't like theater or being asked to think about very big questions.

Also A brilliantly inventive night that gave us all lots to talk about afte... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Great staging, Resonant, Relevant

See it if WOW! If you like shows and theater that ask questions about our society today, if you like incredible theater craft and brilliant acting.

Don't see it if You don't like thinking or you don't like inventive and clever theater.

Also This is an amazing small production doing very big things. If I wasn't... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Epic, Intelligent

See it if If you are looking for a show with a very strong, deep plot that is both thought provoking and resonant. Very good acting . 80 minutes that

Don't see it if Goes by quickly. If your not into deep plays that make you think.

Absorbing, Clever, Great staging, Intelligent, Intense

See it if you enjoy cerebral plays; you just love Brits off Broadway productions

Don't see it if you don't like dramatic plays with nothing to laugh about

Absorbing, Clever, Ambitious, Great staging, Intelligent

See it if you're up for a very clever telling of the story of a man who used his talents in diametric opposition.

Don't see it if you expect to have a takeaway. Even though the piece touches upon some extremely interesting ideas, there is ultimately no ethical closure.

Also 59E59 Theater hosts a wonderful 'Brits Off Broadway' series of plays e... Read more Read less

Secret is out

See it if Smart, classy European play.

Don't see it if Too much thinking is stressful.

Also Great set design. Like a Swiss knife, it has about six functions. Acti... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Ambitious, Thought-provoking

See it if you want to consider place and impact of a human life. Great acting. Well directed. I found it a great jumping off point for discussions.

Don't see it if The lead character comments as a moralist, but acts immorally. Many of the facts were skewed to her POV, so incorrect historically.

Also I loved this play. You are lead to believe the antagonist is the prota... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Great acting, Masterful, Thought-provoking

See it if High quality European play, which has multidimensional meanings within it.

Don't see it if You prefer easy to understand theater pieces

Absorbing, Clever, Ambitious, Great writing, Great staging

See it if you love well-staged well-acted plays of IDEAS, you love discussing philosophy/sociology, you ponder (and worry about) humanity's future

Don't see it if you need light-hearted theatre that does not demand much from the audience

Absorbing, Clever, Great writing, Great acting, Intelligent

See it if Intelligent thought provoking play performed well. Very theatrical in feel.

Don't see it if Want a straight-forward story-driven play then this is not for you. Need to bring your brain to this one.

Absorbing, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if Well acted, thoughtful examination of human progress and dilemma .

Don't see it if Show at times is a thinly disguised, although always interesting, lecture

Clever, Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if you like an intelligent show that makes you think about who you are and where you came from. There are wonderful character studies.

Don't see it if you like comedy or light hearted plays. This play is very thought provoking.

Absorbing, Great staging, Intelligent, Profound, Thought-provoking

See it if You’re interested in philosophical discussions of what it means to be human. You can sit through about 90 minutes without a break.

Don't see it if You need something with a lot of action. You’re not interested in thoughtful questions about who we are and where we’re going as a species

Also I enjoyed this very much, more than I thought even from the descriptio... Read more Read less

Clever, Great staging, Thought-provoking, Intense, Intelligent

See it if You like to be challenged to think about big questions

Don't see it if You prefer a sequential plot line, or you don't like it when the play ends with unresolved questions

Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Relevant, Great staging, Delightful

See it if you'd like a thoughtful exploration of what it means to be human: are we progressing as a race, or ? Good messages, absorbing acting

Don't see it if you want a perfect ending; the show seems to have several endings in a row, as if they couldn't decide

Intelligent, Great staging, Intense, Thought-provoking, Clever

See it if you like a show that makes you think about what makes us human. Or you want to see some impressive visual effects.

Don't see it if you want a light fluffy show or a musical. Or you must have all your questions answered. This show leaves you with conversation starters.

Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Ambitious, Confusing, Great acting

See it if You like an play that challenges you intellectually, instead of soft, entertaining fare. You really enjoyed the play "Travesties".

Don't see it if You seek a funny, comedy or light drama play - basically one with a more conventional plot.

Ambitious, Great staging, Intelligent, Resonant, Thought-provoking

See it if You like learning about events surrounding WW2. You like shows that ask questions like "what makes us human"?

Don't see it if You don't want to think during a show. You want something light and fast paced. You are not interested in historical fiction

Also So much to think about with this show. It brings up so many questions ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent

See it if You like thoughtful, well-acted and well-staged plays that aren't easily categorized.

Don't see it if You don't like plots that are imaginative and not quite linear.

Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Ambitious

See it if If you like a theater of ideas, clever staging,and engaging characters. Not preachy.

Don't see it if Multiple interweaving time frames, abstract concepts, questions to which there may not be answers and no songs.

Also This production gives a whole new meaning to the word "ambitious". It'... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Absorbing, Intelligent, Resonant

See it if Quick moving, well-staged thought provoking play with fine acting and a strong message.

Don't see it if You are looking for a frothy comedic evening in the theatre.

Ambitious, Great staging, Intelligent, Absorbing, Thought-provoking

See it if You read Homo Sapiens and/or Homo Deus and would like to see how they inspired this intelligent and elegant play. Good drecting,

Don't see it if If restrained British acting and dry British humor is not entertaining to you. You want actors who project. You need DRAMA!

Also staging, lighting and acting in a play asking big questions. What does... Read more Read less

Great staging, Intense, Relevant, Thought-provoking

See it if You enjoy a plot that keeps you engaged, relevent to history, philosophy and today’s or future possible events.

Don't see it if You are itching for light subject matter and a brassy musical.

Great staging, Great acting, Intelligent, Profound, Ambitious

See it if you like plays that make you think that are very well acted and superbly staged. It does become a bit preachy though.

Don't see it if you are looking for something light'

Thought provoking, Intelligent, Slow, Good staging

See it if you like semi biographical stories and deadly developments circa WWII; good acting, staging and directing; evolution of man.

Don't see it if you want an easy to follow timeline; don't like talky theater with little action; you want answers and a happy ending.

Cast & Creatives (10)