Jax Jackson and Nancy Opel in "Hir"
Jax Jackson and Nancy Opel in "Hir"
© Magic Theatre. Photo by Jennifer Reiley

Hir, SF

A rollicking comedy-of-no-manners exposes the underside of a most dysfunctional household.

By Taylor Mac

 

Directed by Niegel Smith

 

Magic Theatre, San Francisco

 

 

Jan. 29-Feb. 23, 2014 (world premiere)

 

Move over George Bernard Shaw! There’s a new kind of war between the sexes being waged in the weird world of performer/singer/songwriter/playwright Taylor Mac (“The Lily’s Revenge”). And not just the same old two sexes that Noah ushered onto his Ark, if you please. Max, a teenager in transition in Mac’s latest play, “Hir,” newly opened at Magic Theatre, postulates five or six and still counting.

“Hir” is a hilarious free-for-all about gender, power, and parents and children. And also about suburbia and dead body parts and the kind of Da Vinci code that never occurred to Dan Brown. When Marine Isaac (Ben Euphrat) returns from Afghanistan, dishonorably discharged for ingesting crystal meth in highly creative ways, the house is in an incredible mess (incredibly messy set by Alexis Distler). His father (Mark Anderson Phillips) has had a stroke and is dressed in adult diapers, a woman’s nightgown and a clown wig, his face made up to match (costumes by Christine Cook). In retaliation for years of drudgery and neglect, Mama Paige (Broadway actress Nancy Opel) has given up cleaning, cooking and laundry to pursue possibility — both in herself and others. Plus she is getting even with dear old Dad in as many ways as she can, infantilizing, bullying and sedating him out of what’s left of his mind. Most astonishing of all, Arnie’s sister, Max (Jax Jackson), has grown a beard. On purpose.

Most disconcerting, especially if you’ve been used to military discipline over the past three years. There’s no place for Isaac here. The spare room has been given over to arts and crafts, and Max has moved into Isaac’s old room to give “hir” testosterone treatments space to develop. Max is not only transgender but gay and looks forward to moving into a commune of like minds, making honey and rewriting gender history after he/she grows up.

This is funny? Trust me, hysterical, especially as directed by Niegel Smith and delivered by this razor sharp quartet of actors. It takes most of the first act to set this all up and when the curtain (metaphorical) rises on Act II, the kitchen is transformed, thanks to a lightning-fast stage crew who can come clean my house any day.

Isaac has decided to take things into his own hands, straightening up, washing clothes and trying to restore his father’s dignity while Paige and Max take in a museum but, when she returns, Mama is having none of it. In her own sweet smiling way, she has become just as much of a tyrant as her husband was in his better days. The fur flies, as does the clean laundry, some dishes and the broken parts of a hotly contested air conditioner. And here, amidst all the hilarity, the poignancy of this family’s situation creeps up on us. Paige has sold their crumbling old house, compromising their future — or opening it up, depending on who’s looking at it. Isaac is lost, having nowhere to go. Max is caught in a maelstrom of hormones and loyalties, Dad is just this side of a vegetable and the mother, who may or may not have gotten them into this mess, continues to throw more stuff onto the pile.

The American Dream, ain’t it beautiful?

Suzanne Weiss

San Francisco, CA
Suzanne Weiss wanted to be a ballerina with all her heart, but the rest of her body was not equipped to go along with the program so she became a critic instead. Covering dance, theater and music for various papers in Chicago and the Bay Area has kept her on her toes for the past 25 years.