|Jax Jackson as Max. Photo by Jennifer Reiley.|
In its title and its marketing, Hir purports to focus on gender-identity issues. But Max isn't the protagonist; ze's the last character to enter, and at times, hir story feels like an afterthought. Paige's ego and personality dominate the play, and she seems to do most of the talking in Act I. Meanwhile, the character it's easiest to identify with is Isaac – he's shocked to discover how crazy and dysfunctional his family has become, and we're right there making those discoveries alongside him. What this means, though, is that the character we identify with is the only person onstage who's a young, able-bodied, heterosexual, white, cisgender male. I have to believe that Taylor Mac is too smart not to have done this on purpose – but I can't figure out why, after making his name writing plays that speak from the perspective of "drag queens, freaks, queers, mermaids, shamans," he is now asking us to identify with a straight white dude.
|Ben Euphrat as Isaac, Nancy Opel as Paige. Photo by Jennifer Reiley.|
I suppose it's refreshing to see a play in which a soldier has been made more empathic, rather than more brutal, by the experience of war; and in which a suburban mom embraces her child's gender transition rather than being freaked out by it. But that isn't enough to make Hir a compelling evening of theater. Moreover, Paige's commitment to Max's gender identity may defy stereotype, but in many other respects, she's the biggest cliche of all: the smothering, self-absorbed, monstrous mother, Mama Rose on steroids. Paige is depicted as someone who's read a lot of feminist and postmodernist theory and then completely misinterpreted it, e.g. she thinks that because her husband beat her, it gives her the right to make his life miserable after he has his stroke. You can imagine a conservative pundit watching Hir and then saying "see, feminism turns women into man-hating monsters!" I'm sure that this can't be Taylor Mac's intent… but then, I'm not sure what his intent is. Is Hir supposed to depict the here-and-now? Because it really felt neither here nor there.