A young soldier returns home to assist his ailing father who has suffered a massive stroke. When he returns, he finds his world turned upside down as his mother has revolted against the patriarchy and his sister is now becoming his brother. This is Hir by Taylor Mac, now playing at the Blue Barn.
Mac has certainly crafted one of the most cerebral comedies I have ever seen. You’ll constantly need to be on your toes as the story winds over many peaks and valleys before reaching its final destination. It isn’t your typical dark comedy. Rather it’s more of a tragic comedy with laugh out loud moments and instances where you’ll feel as if you were punched in the gut. Mac also has a beautiful knack for phrasing as his acrobatic wordplay keeps the play zipping along.
Susan Clement-Toberer scores again with tight, crisp direction as she leads her magnificent cast of 4 through every high and low of this tale.
Few things thrill me more than getting to see new talent on stage and this play comes up big with the debuts of Joe Mendick and Nickolas Butt who are pure magic.
Mendick plays Isaac, the young soldier. Isaac was clearly a good soldier, but was dishonorably discharged due to drug usage. Shocked at the changes in his family, Isaac mounts a counterrevolution against his mother to restore his family to a more improved version of the way they were before he joined the Marines.
Mendick brings incredible intensity to the role. His ramrod posture is the perfect choice for Isaac as he is so wound up that he vomits with alarming frequency. Mendick also has a wonderfully rich voice capable of the subtlest nuances and a face capable of the widest range of emotions. One of his best moments occurs at the end of Act I where he engages his father in a conversation where his gestures, tones, and expressions show how much he loved and hated his father at the same time.
Nickolas Butt was, quite frankly, a sheer joy to watch. For someone with very little acting experience, Butt possesses poise and confidence many experienced actors would envy. Butt stars as Max, Isaac’s transgendered sibling and absolutely nails it. Max is a rather amusing philosopher with his views on life and his reinterpretation of history (or herstory, as he is so fond of saying). Max’s wit and wisdom conceal the fact that he doesn’t really know what he wants for himself. He has a lot of wild dreams and wishes, but lacks follow-through until the very end when he begins to find himself.
Butt excellently communicates all of Max’s intricacies with a fluid body language and clear as crystal facial expressions that always lets one follow his thoughts as he observes his rather dysfunctional family.
“I’ve gone a little batty,” says Paige and this sums up her character well. Kim Jubenville brilliantly essays this character who has undergone an awakening after her husband, Arnold, suffered his stroke. Freed from his tyranny, she decides to revolt against Arnold and the patriarchy in general by refusing to clean or cook, keeping the air conditioner on at all times, homeschooling Max, taking trips, and just doing whatever she fancies.
Going over the top would be an easy temptation for this role, but Ms Jubenville always takes it just to the top which keeps Paige’s realism intact. She also has some of the most difficult dialogue in the play as Paige spouts out a lot of complicated jargon especially when she tries to teach Isaac about the new pronouns of ze and hir which he must use in reference to Max.
But don’t be fooled by Paige’s goofiness. There is a lot of darkness to her. Ms Jubenville slowly reveals the nastier aspects of Paige throughout the play with her cruel and callous behavior towards her husband such as keeping him docile by feeding him estrogen, making him wear dresses, and forcing him to sleep in a box. This darkness finally reaches its crescendo during a climactic confrontation between Paige, Isaac, and Arnold.
Brent Spencer gives what I consider to be his finest performance to date as Arnold. He is an incredibly convincing stroke victim with his staccato walk and twisted face, barely managing to eke out a few words here and there. As helpless as he is, Spencer is also able to show the audience glimpses of the fiend that Arnold was before his stroke. His disdain for Paige is palpable and he doesn’t hesitate to resort to violence against her as feeble as it now is. You’ll surely feel a strange mixture of pity and disgust at this man.
Martin Scott Marchitto does it again with his design of a pleasant, comfortable starter home. However you won’t see it in its full glory until Act II as it is hidden by Amy Reiner’s well staged clutter in Act I. Lora Kaup’s costumes are well suited to the character especially the butch clothing of Max and the humiliating dresses and wigs of Arnold.
Some line bobbles took nothing away from this excellent play which teaches a profound lesson. The past cannot be obliterated, only learned from and those that fail to learn from it are surely doomed to repeat it.
Hir plays through Feb 26 at the Blue Barn. Performances are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6pm. The performances for Feb 3 and 4 are sold out and there is no performance on Feb 5. Tickets cost $30 for adults and $25 for students, seniors (65+), TAG members, and groups of 10 or more. For reservations, call 402-345-1576 or visit www.bluebarn.org. Due to strong language and mature subject matter, Hir is not recommended for children. The Blue Barn is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.