Direction: Katherine McRae (written by Taylor Mac)
Circa Theatre; Circa One (October 9 – November 6)
“Hir” (pronounced here) is how you address Max now that they’re transitioning. Hir or “ze”, no longer he or she or her or him. This is a lot for brother Isaac (returning from the war, discharged for drug-use) to get his head around. His mother (Paige) didn’t quite tell him all that. She also mentioned that abusive, tyrannical father Arnie has had his wings clipped via a stroke. But she left out that he’s nearly catatonic.
So when the play Hir (by New York-based performance artist, theatre practitioner and playwright Taylor Mac) begins, we see – through the eyes of Isaac – a house that looks like hoarders had a fight and the stroke-victim Arnie is there with clown make-up and a nightdress on. Dressed for ridicule. It turns out he’s no victim.
Hir is a play about gender and transitioning – but it’s as much a play about PTSD. It’s a play about pinning hopes on an unknown future to try to forget an irredeemable past. And though teenage Max (played brilliantly by Felix Crossley-Pritchard) is our protagonist, really our guide through the mess and madness (so brilliantly displayed in a physical sense by all of the characters and by perfect direction and set design) is Paige. She is a motormouth (Perry Piercy is nothing short of stunning her with long monologues and sublime comic timing) and with so much ground to cover she never loses her footing.
The (toxic) masculinity that haunts this house is now in shellshock. Both Arnie (K.C Kelly is brilliant as the stunned mullet in reluctant drag) and Isaac (I always appreciate Dryw McArthur’s efforts) have been reduced. Isaac is backfooted by both his own behaviour, returning like a dog with his tail down between his legs, and in a mouth-agog state of horror at how the house has been left to pustulate.
He has to try his best to keep up as Paige cartwheels through the newfound freedom of not giving a fuck. Dinner is whatever and served whenever, clothes are folded on the floor and everything is a mess to represent both the actual mess of it all and a freedom from shirking responsibility. Paige’s hopes are pinned on Max – the future. Ze will provide a new place for Paige, riding shotgun. Except of course there’s no future for hir out in a world without Paige clinging on.
Claustrophobic and restrictive, this social satire has a tension that builds so perfectly across its first set. There’s utter hilarity in the barbed lines, and in the new karmic cruelty that Paige dollops out at Arnie, spraying him with water to control his behaviour, treating him like an errant dog.
The second half of the play watches the humour grow intentionally farcical for sublime comic effect. Until it doesn’t. Until it isn’t. Until ghosts of Arnie’s damage grow new bones and twist into new shapes. Until Isaac resorts to his basic training and a new form of bullying arrives within a house that was never happy. Until Max’s great hopes and wisdom for all that is new in the world can’t cut above the surface-noise of a cruel and bitter tension that has a horror-show ambience all of its own.
I leapt to me feet at the end of Hir. A standing ovation on opening night by many in attendance told some of the story of how great this play is. The rest of it is in the fact that this stays with you for days after. I was in awe of the writing, the direction, every little bit of this production – the look and feel and sweat and grit of it. And in the four incredible performances that drive the characters that make this show. So far removed from my experience growing up. So utterly believable – the cruel and dark and bitter extension of every family argument. But with so much more riding on it.
Hir is simply unforgettable, compelling, powerful theatre. I’m quite sure it’s one of the very best things I’ve ever seen.