Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 18, 2018

REVIEW: Shakespeare & Company, Hir

Shakespeare and Company, Lenox MA
through October 7, 2018
by Jarice Hanson

Taylor Mac is one of the most interesting playwrights working in theatre today. A finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in Drama, Mac has accumulated many awards in literature. In “Hir” Mac pushes the boundaries of absurdist theatre.

The title of the play refers to the pronoun that is not gender specific. Mac defies conventional social relationships and propels the concept of the dysfunctional family into a new dimension to explore traditions of gender fluidity, social expectations, psychological warfare and family cruelty, love, and violence. Yes, there’s a lot that goes on in the two-hour piece, but it is so well crafted that some lines immediately register with truth and impact. At one point, the mother tells her marine son who just returned from Afghanistan, “I’d tell you to kill yourself here, but I don’t want to clean up the mess.”
Photo by Emma Rosenberg-Ware

A big mess is exactly what the audience sees when they enter the theatre. Clothing is strewn everywhere and this small “starter home that never really got started” is indicative of a family that never moved forward, but certainly devolved backward.  Metaphors of past and future are embedded in the dialog, but the real message is that this is a show about the messy present we inhabit. 

An excellent cast delivers performances that are nuanced, energetic, and loaded with cultural meaning.  Elizabeth Aspenlieder as Paige, the mother, wants to be the guiding light of her family and thrills with the realization of a “paradigm shift.”  Arnold, the father, subtly and sublimely played by John Hadden, has had a stroke, and Paige emasculates him by forcing him to wear women’s clothing and make-up—her revenge for a lifetime of abuse. Max, portrayed by Jack Doyle, is transitioning from Maxine to become a “trans masculine” hir. As Isaac, the elder son, Adam Huff is dynamic as a drug-abusing marine charged with picking up the body parts of the deceased.  Now, he’s home, trying to put the pieces of his family together again.

“Hir” deals with toxic masculinity and the changing culture in which we live. It is messy, and sometimes painful to watch, but what makes it so jarring is that it most certainly contrasts love and abuse. “Hir” contains strong language and themes may offend some people, but it is an important play in that it is in the crosshairs of contemporary culture and confusion.