Start with family dysfunction writ large, stir in heaps of souring masculine privilege, spice with gender continuum, garnish with physical and verbal humor — and there you have Taylor Mac’s Hir at barebones productions’ Black Box Theater, directed by artistic director Patrick Jordan.
Pronounced “here,” hir is a non-gender-specific pronoun, objective case, and Mac makes quite an objective case in skewering social norms, especially the rigid definitions of male and female, sexually as well as socially. Pronouns are important. For the record, Mac prefers “judy” as a personal pronoun, as in “everybody in judy’s 2014 comedy has gotten the short end of the stick.”
The center of the family is, of course, the mother. Local legend Helena Ruoti bites into the role of Paige with glee: bubbling rage turned into rebellious creativity, while seeking refuge in an unplanned future. The long-suffering battered wife wreaks vengeance daily on her tormentor, now nearly a zombie after a stroke. At first, Arnold seems pathetic, worthy of pity. Douglas Rees bravely embraces the mockery, but he lets the character’s evil bubble up.
If mom and dad have been at war for decades, imagine the collateral damage to the kids, noncombatants in name only. Isaac — whose nickname is a revealing “I” — returns from the actual war in Afghanistan, with PTSD among other problems, to a “home” turned upside-down. Tad Cooley flashes through dismay and despair (not to mention hilarious exchanges with Ruoti) as he tries to dominate the battleground that is his family. And then there’s Max, whose transgendering status is behind the title. Liam Ezra Dickinson seems a bit old for hir (ze’s [correct non-gender-specific pronoun, subjective case] still just a kid, after all) but portrays the insecurities and self-explorations of a teen coping with way too much.
The changing alliances of the characters seem like choreography. It’s quite a tight production, if rather crowded in the first act. Jordan designed the set, masterfully managed by Brittany Spinelli. And let’s applaud the design team: technical director Douglas McDermott; Andrew Ostrowski, lighting; Angela Vesco, costumes; Carolyn Slothour, sound; and fight director Randy Kovitz.
Vicious, funny, madly topical — Hir can be discomfiting but stimulating, sometimes simultaneously.