Friday, February 13, 2015


Play #18 - Hir by Taylor Mac

Now, I know that I had said I was going to read plays by women for my "Play a Day" project, but I'm going to make an exception here. Taylor Mac is a genderqueer playwright (who prefers to use "judy" as a gender pronoun), and I feel totally comfortable including a non-binary viewpoint like Taylor's into my year o' plays. So, let's do this!

At the beginning of Hir, Isaac is coming home from three years in the Middle East where he served in Mortuary Services during the war. It was his job to collect body parts after people died so they could be sent home to their families. He is home because he was dishonorably discharged for some, shall we say, creative drug use. When he arrives home, he finds that the house has changed substantially from when last he saw it. First of all, the place is a mess - to the point that the front door is wedged shut because of the piles and piles of clothes and debris strewn about the house. His father (Arnold) has had a massive stroke and is now at the whim of his mother Paige, who dresses him in frilly nightgowns, feeds him estrogen, and squirts him with a water bottle when he misbehaves. Paige has stopped cleaning and has started a non-profit with which she intends to buy out and raze their neighborhood. And Isaac's little sister Maxine has begun taking testosterone, changed her name to Max, and prefers to be referred to as "ze" or "hir" rather than "he, she, him, her." Isaac's reaction to all this upheaval is predictably off-kilter, particularly in the face of his PTSD, which makes some everyday activities - like using a blender - extremely difficult. In general, his fits of PTSD involve a lot of vomiting. After being bombarded by all the changes that surround him, Isaac insists on staying home with Arnold while Paige and Max go off to the museum for their "Cultural Saturday" excursion. While they are gone, Isaac tries to talk to his father about the man he had been (the man he had been was apparently an abusive drunk who was unable to deal with his own failures, but he was a MAN who was IN CHARGE and Isaac seems to desperately want a return to that). Isaac also begins to clean the house - which Paige strictly forbade him to do. When they return home, Isaac gives Max jobs to continue cleaning the house, but Paige flies into a rage when she sees what Isaac has done. They argue, with Arnold and Max seemingly siding with Paige, until Paige calls them back to her to perform a shadow puppet play about the hairdresser with whom Arnold had had an affair for years. Tempers flare and Isaac explodes, shoving his mother and beating the air conditioner with a bat. Finally, Paige throws him out of the house, describing him as just another extra, cast away, dead body part that will just be picked up by someone. Isaac leaves, devastated, and Max is left with hir mother, though ze desperately wants to get away from it all. In the final moments, Arnold wets himself and, though Paige tells hir to leave it, Max defies Paige and goes to clean up hir father.

There are some fabulous comic moments in this play that are immensely effective at highlighting the darkness that lies at the foundations of this family's existence. Listening to Paige spout off all the modern gender rhetoric that Max has burned into her brain must be a bit like watching a trained animal - she really doesn't have any idea what she is saying, she's just so proud to be saying it. My favorite line: "MAAAAAAAAX COME IN HERE AND EXPLAIN YOUR AMBIGUITY TO YOUR BROTHER." Genius. Taylor Mac has elevated a complex set of identity politics - and not just when it comes to the transgender character. Arnold has lost all the things that he felt made him "a man" - except for his penis, which he fondles regularly throughout the show. Isaac attempted to find an identity and solutions in the army, but all he found was death and other broken people. Paige was defined for so long by the husband who terrorized her, and now she is bursting from the seams, attempting to define herself as pretty much anything that isn't connected to who she was before. Honestly, Max probably has the strongest sense of self of any of the characters, having made a conscious decision about how ze wants to be perceived in the world. Obviously, as a teen, there is still a lot to sort out, but the cisgender people who surround Max are all careening so wildly out of control, I found myself rooting for the day that Max gets to walk out that door and into the future. But ze doesn't just go - hir family is still there and still needs hir. It's really a very sad and self-sacrificing ending, and an insightful and well-told story!

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