THEATER REVIEW: “HIR” @ Shakespeare & Company [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Macey Levin
Photograph by Eloy Garcia
Editor’s Note: The playwright’s preferred pronoun is judy.
Since the classic Greeks created the drama there have been plays about dysfunctional families starting with Oedipus Rex followed by Hamlet, A Doll’s House, The Little Foxes, A Long Day’s Journey…, Buried Child, and now we have HIR by Taylor Mac at Shakespeare and Company’s Bernstein Theatre in Lenox. It is an edgy production of a brutal play.
Isaac (Adam Huff) expects to come home to serenity after a three-year stint in Afghanistan where he worked with the Mortuary Service retrieving body parts. He has been dishonorably discharged for using drugs. The living room/kitchen area is a mess with clothes strewn everywhere and nothing in the room is clean. His father Arnold (John Hadden), who sleeps in a cardboard carton, is in a nightgown wearing an ugly multi-colored wig, his face painted with grotesque makeup. Isaac is greeted by his mother Paige (Elizabeth Aspenlieder), who explains the chaos along with the empty cupboards with the phrase “We don’t do that anymore.” She proselytizes the family’s new “philosophy” of challenging accepted norms. Isaac tentatively greets his sister, now his transgendered teen-age brother, Max (Jack Doyle), an acolyte of their mother’s new approach to life.
Arnold has had a stroke and is in a childlike state unable to be conversant. After years of mistreating his family physically and psychologically, Paige has exacerbated his condition by not ministering to his needs and by wresting control of the family’s life. Despite her seemingly gracious manner, she rules with an iron fist and brooks no disagreement; she is a beast under the beauty. To ameliorate Max’s transition, she changes pronouns. They no longer use “him” or “her”; it is “hir” or “ze,” so that there is no specific gender identity. Max’s one area of disagreement with Paige is his desire to live in an anarchistic Faerie commune.