Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Review Hir

Reviewer Peter Barker relishes a vivid satire charting the transformation of a dysfunctional Californian family.  

by Taylor Mac

New World Disorder

Hir is a provocative and darkly funny look at nation, family and masculinity in contemporary America. It's also one of the highlights of my theatre year so far, thanks to a witty script, taut direction and four outstanding performances.

Isaac Connor is an American marine who was previously tasked while stationed overseas with gathering body parts of military casualties for repatriation.  Now he himself is repatriated, discharged dishonourably and back home.

He had left an identikit Californian working-class family home in an identikit working-class suburb, albeit on reclaimed landfill.

His father Arnold struggled to make a living as a plumber. Sister Maxine was a tomboy on the cusp of adolescence. Isaac's mother Paige, a battered wife, was also beaten down by the sheer bloody awfulness of it all.

Isaac left home to fight a war and he appears to have come home to another one, as gender roles are reimagined and past wrongs revenged.

His mother Paige has thrown off her shackles and ruthlessly rules the household, while father Arnold, cut down by illness and bizarrely costumed by his carers, now sleeps in a box, fed illicit female hormones mixed with his prescription stroke medication.

The soldier's sister has become his brother Max with the Hir of the title being the preferred pronoun, a mixture of his and her, for the transgender sibling.

However, playwright Taylor Mac, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, has created a surreal comedy for serious purposes. He uses this gender change and violent family chaos for a pungent state-of-the-nation analysis after decades of no-wage growth and, yes, the death of the American Dream.

Indeed I felt it has a parallel in Requiem For A Dream, the movie from Hubert Selby Jr's novel chronicling the personal and national drug-fuelled undercurrents in US life. 

Arthur Darvill plays out the trauma as bewildered war veteran Isaac, with his disorientation powerfully culminating in a fit of visceral violent rage.

Ashley McGuire’s mother is a grotesque but uttering some of the funniest lines. Yet she also has a justified anger while providing a tough foil and strop for Isaac’s rising emotions.

As Isaac's made-obsolete father, Andy Williams has a powerful, near-mute brooding presence suffering fresh daily humiliations at the hands of his newly liberated spouse.

Griffyn Gilligan's teenager is the distilled symbol of change in Hir, able to use hormones purchased on line to transform hir-self but writer Mac manages to take all the changes within the family to unexpected places.

Designer Ben Stone's traverse set forces the audience to face each other  across the battleground of a prefab home in disarray that, like the family, has been beaten up and is falling apart.

Nadia Fall directs this kitchen-sink satire with gleeful discipline, keeping up the laughs and, especially in the second half, its anarchy, tension and adrenalin-fuelled pace.

In the end, it seems as if Isaac may be America's sacrifice just as another biblical Isaac is Abraham's intended offering. Unlike his namesake, Isaac Connor may never be able to surface from the chaos around him, yet the fate of his mother and sibling at the play's finish hangs tantalisingly up in the air.

For all its mining of serious issues, Hir remains an absurdist social comedy - if an unsettling one. It finally transforms itself into a green light meditation on a grotesque topsy turvydom reflecting individual, family and national upheavals.

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