“Holy Shit” was the only thing I could whisper as I wiped the tears from my eyes after witnessing Hir. I was almost to the point of runny nose, Halle Berry at the Oscars, ugly crying. I realized at that moment that the 2018 season at ArtsWest did not come to play with its production of Hir.
Ok, so I’m going to come right out and say it: Hir is a dysfunctional, surreal, roller coaster that should not be seen lightly. This play is triggering AF, and if don’t you mess with strong language, loud noises, violent content, pulsating lights, or domestic abuse, then stop reading because this play is not meant for you. If you have continued, please be ready for a wild ride.
Hir focuses on when a son, dishonorable discharged from service in Afghanistan, returns home to find a mother newly liberated from an abusive marriage, a father recently disabled, and a newly transitioning sibling. The entire production, from the set to the acting to the script, make Hir one the most exciting plays to see this year.
Written by Taylor Mac, directed Jennifer Zeyl, and co produced with the Intiman Theatre, Hir is incendiary. Playwright Taylor Mac is a force in the national theatre world. Mac, whose pronoun is judy, is an actor, playwright, performance artist, director, producer, and singer/songwriter based in New York. Originally from the best coast/West Coast, Mac came from a family of Vietnam war vet and judy’s own family experience is evident in Hir. Mac is also the recipient of a whole bunch of fancy awards, like the MacArthur “Genius Grant” – and rightly so because, if all of judy’s work is as shocking funny and moving as Hir, we all need to run to our local theaters and demand more!
ArtsWest is a great non-profit theater in the round in West Seattle. The stage is on the same level as the seating, so the audience feels intimately close with the set and the cast. Once you enter the space, you are immediately sucked into the atmosphere of the family’s living room. The mother, played by Gretchen Krich, and the father, played by Charles Legget, were already on the set, slowly moving around the chaotically messy living room while funky 70’s instrumental music plays. It seemed eerie, but maybe I just find white people unsettling in general. But it truly transports you into this singular event, surrounding the story and emotion of this family.
As the events unfold, we see the characters develop, along with their toxic relationships with each other. The mom fucked me up the most. She has taken this pivotal new role as head of the house and wields her power recklessly. She was once a stereotypically middle-class white woman, but her liberation has blasted her to a new point of faux allyship and revolution. She proudly uses her twisted relationships with her husband and teen to rationalize her own actions, while ultimately establishing her new place in the world. We watch as the power dynamic of the household tipped to a ridiculous battle of gender is presented and simultaneously deconstructed.
Despite how triggering this play was, it is uncomfortably funny and overwhelmingly sad. The decision to produce Hir supports voices that might not always get heard. They even had a tri-fold at the entrance of the building that people had to pass by on the way out that broke down LGBTQIAA – which was a new acronym even for me. Hir reminds us that, no matter how we try to cover our dysfunction, it’s still there. The honesty and raw emotion conjured on that stage is enough to leave anyone shaken to their core. Every element of this production created a performance that is a rollercoaster – and should not be seen lightly. If you have the opportunity to see Hir, do yourself a favor: skip the mascara and bring some tissues.