“HIR” Pushes Boundaries

By Madge Slack

“HIR” (pronounced “here”) by Taylor Mac pushes boundaries. This play tells the story of a returned soldier, Isaac, whose homecoming is not what he expected. This modern-day satire is reminiscent of the 1970’s and somehow manages to be tragic, funny and strange simultaneously.

Isaac enlisted three years ago to work for the military in Afghanistan picking up bodies, or rather body parts. He cares for the pieces, a primary theme throughout the show. He returns home to his complacent post-stroke father who is bullied by Isaac’s mother and his sister. Except now, his sister is his brother. Isaac walks into an unrecognizable home where there’s no place for him, his room is long gone and his parents’ relationship is non-existent.

This play deals with heavy content that is both meaningful and funny. You walk out not laughing but thinking. Isaac’s father was abusive, he raped Isaac’s mother just before his stroke and Isaac originally enlisted in order to protect his family. In his absence, Max, Isaac’s sibling, started taking testosterone and began transitioning. Through accumulated fear and anger caused by abuse, Isaac’s mother drugs his father with estrogen, dresses him in women’s clothes, paints his face and clutters the house. The family is dysfunctional. Their dysfunction allows these issues to be handled in a way that isn’t judgemental or horrific and yet doesn’t trivialize them. As a piece of art, it’s brilliant.

I would like to applaud Salt Lake Acting Company (SLAC) for their casting and design choices. Isaac is played by Austin Archer, who does a fantastic job of highlighting both the good and bad characteristics of both parents. His handling of each scene orients the audience and keeps them from falling prey to the absurdity of the show. Paige, played by Christy Summerhays, is the comic relief. Her over the top ideas and conspiracy theories are what make the play fun, but she doesn’t forget to drop an emotional bomb every now and then. Arnold, played by Richard Scott, is one of the most impressive players in the show. Playing a believable stroke victim, a jerk who simultaneously is perfectly pitiful, is no easy role. Scott plays it magnificently. Max, played by Liggera Edmonds-Allen, is the heart character both scared of the future and stubbornly trying to define hirself. Edmonds-Allen is also a gender fluid actor which shouldn’t need to be mentioned, but I do because it is unusual in Utah to cast true to character. SLAC took the time to cast consciously and the production is better for it.

The set design is overwhelming and homey, an uncomfortable juxtaposition created by Cara Pomeroy. The only sounds were upbeat music to break up acts which contradict the emotional tension while embracing the tone of the show, designed by Jennifer Jackson. The directing was integral — Tracy Callahan does a marvelous job of taking the audience from laughter to shock and back again with the flip of a switch and the actors lived in their moments, fully embracing larger than life characters.

This story contains sensitive content, but it is a great play. If you stop in to support the theater you won’t be disappointed. Taylor Mac is known for doing the unexpected and “HIR” is no exception. Have a listen and a laugh — they run through March 11. Trigger warning: “HIR” discusses war, rape, language and depicts domestic violence.