My belief in the wide scope of family dramas drew me to see Hir in London’s Bush Theatre in 2017. I was surprised by such an innovative approach and felt it would be a great play to write about (particularly in the current global climate) in relation to necessary change. Hir is a subversive and radical take on the dysfunctional family drama. For one, it is a comedy on queer theory and gender fluidity in which potentially over-theorised concepts, which do not necessarily enhance the visibility and representation of transgender people, are brought to life in a chaotic family context.
All that should probably not be said or done, is eventually said or done. The play’s cathartic nature hinges on New York playwright Taylor Mac’s darkly playful approach to gender issues. Mac introduces the setting as ‘the kind of home that, no matter how hard you clean, will always seem dirty… a starter home that never really got started and can’t seem to end.’ Hir takes place in a ‘house built by a first-time builder in the early ‘70s’ during a particularly hot summer in rural California. The play begins with a homecoming: Isaac, a marine, returns to find the home he grew up in completely transformed.
While Isaac’s sibling Maxine now identifies as ‘hir’ and is injecting testosterone, the home’s previously abusive patriarch is being fed oestrogen and dressed as a woman by Paige (the mother). Paige’s actions reflect her rejection of subjugation by a violent masculine force; she refuses to clean anything (so the house is an absolute tip). In the opening scene, Paige wastes no time in shocking her son Isaac, as soon as he returns, with her repudiation of gender norms, roles and social practices. Full of joyful rage, she proclaims: ‘We’re getting rid of things and stopped caring’.
Hir is a striking family tragicomedy.
Image credit: David Hubelbank/Montclair Film.