There’s Not Much Substance There For Hir.
By Patrick Hurley
There is a continuing theatrical narrative of patriarchal and hegemonic representation. A plethora of American stories that deal with the lower to middle class American family through a very traditional lens, highlighting struggle. For the last decade or so, the surge of identity politics, awareness of a need to be more inclusive and over-correction of the aforementioned narrative, there has been a shift in the collective narrative from the white heteronormative expectancy of canonical works into one of many colors, shapes, sexual orientations, gender identities and cultural re-appropriations.Taylor Mac attempts to deconstruct the patriarchy and our perception of ‘normative’ through his own very special lens with the play Hir, (pronounced ‘here’), playing now at the Odyssey Theatre. In the piece, the playwright weaves together a satirical tapestry of ideas and language meant to highlight the major paradigm shift that has been happening in the world. And in doing so, the play also highlights the hypocrisy, hubris and dangers of such “forward” thinking. The play accomplishes the comedy and is able to make a solid statement. And while this particular production finds humor and even a little pathos, it ultimately falls victim to a dramaturgical flaw that only an auteur director could have avoided.
Paige Connor (Cynthia Kania) is a woman who has simply had enough. She spent most of her life in loving duty to her husband and children. A traditional American housewife who had suffered abuse at the hands of her hard-nosed husband Arnold (Ron Botitta). Arnold’s recent stroke, however, which has made him rather incapacitated, has given Paige a new lease and outlook on life, and she decides to shift her own paradigm and re-create a narrative that includes her refusing to clean or cook, or partake in any of the patriarchal duties of a traditional wife. She removes her transgender son Max (Puppett) from the school system and begins home schooling him, insisting she is qualified because unlike the schools she won’t teach biblical nonsense. She also spends time humiliating and abusing her now disabled husband in what she simply refers to as “karma.”
When her oldest son Isaac (Zack Gearing) comes home from the war after three years, he returns to a life and a home he doesn’t recognize. His mother has let everything go to pot, his sister is now his brother, and his father is a stroke victim dressed in women’s clothing complete with a clown wig and make-up. Arnold is also constantly being spray bottled by Paige whenever he does anything that she construes as inappropriate. So the nice comfortable life Isaac expected to return to doesn’t exist anymore, and he is forced to confront the changes, which quickly becomes a desperate need for a return to some kind of normalcy. Isaac tries to re-shift the paradigm back to where it was before, but he is met with great resistance from his mother who is there to remind him that his heterosexual, white male privilege is no longer wanted or needed, in fact, it will be ultimately rejected in this new world.
Taylor Mac has crafted a funny and cautionary tale with this play, but there is an element that is missing almost entirely, and that’s a clear and concise tone. The piece can be played as naturalism, with some absurdity added for comic effect, but this does a great disservice to the piece because the metaphor, which is heavily reliant upon Post-Modern idealism, needs a world built on the idea that not only is everything a bridge too far, but the bridge isn’t even connected to land on either side. So, we hover in a place of uncertainty. It’s a world that exists in a vacuum. A Beckettian amount of absurdism is probably required to heighten this play from melodrama to abstract, from the obvious to the artistic, it should float just above reality on a plane created especially for this piece, but this production never leaves the ground, and so we’re left with a heavy hammer of a metaphor hitting us over the head with the obvious intention of a playwright instead of the cleverness of an artist.
Director Bart DeLorenzo allows the actors to interpret the world instead of creating a stylistic foundation that the actors would then have to be a part of, and the result minimizes effect. Sometimes on-the-nose doesn’t come close enough to the intention of the writer, and here we have a play where the playwright has faltered the director and actors. As much as there is to admire in Taylor Mac’s genius, the lack of tone, the missing piece of the script, hinders the entire show, because if he is trying to create something that deconstructs, he should have written into the world a kind of map, or keys into the text that changes the stasis of this world into one of heightened or diminished stakes. Either over-the-top or deadpanned, but allowing it to exist in the middle of the road, as just another naturalistic play that happens to have quirky or heightened characters, makes the impact almost dissipate as soon as the house lights have come back on.