Friday, July 14, 2017

Review of Hir at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Hir. It was by Taylor Mac and it was directed by Hallie Gordon. It was about a family in California who is trying to figure out what they are doing. The father, Arnold (Francis Guinan) has had a stroke and the mother Paige (Amy Morton) is making changes to the way they live their lives because she doesn't want to be trapped by her husband to do what he wanted anymore, even though her plan is not really what she wants anymore. Their son, Isaac (Ty Olwin), is coming back from the war, and all he wants is to be back in his old home again, but it isn't like it used to be, and he was expecting something else, so he is very shaken by that. And Max (Em Grosland) is going through transition from her to hir. It is about family, change, and being broken. I think this show was super moving and sad, but not without humor. It really makes me think about what it would be like to feel like your whole life is falling apart and you don't know how to fix it.

The set (by Collette Pollard) I think was absolutely gorgeously gross, which was perfect for the show. It looked exactly like a starter home, but the thing was it looked like a starter home mixed with dirty laundry and the aftermath of a pride parade. The aesthetic of the play is terrifying realistic mixed with fancy theater. There is a giant fancy curtain which they raise to show the cluttered mess. It looks so refined, and then they reveal what is on the other side of the curtain. But once the act break ends, the curtain comes up and the stage looks different again. But even though things have changed, that doesn't mean things aren't going to fall apart. The family seems like it was just a normal family until the father had his stroke. But you find out that there was always a mess behind the curtain that is the family. No one really saw it until the person everyone was scared of was debilitated.

I became very invested in the characters because they were like real people; they were messed up like real people. But sometimes they were so messed up it was funny. It kind of makes you feel bad for laughing, but you do anyway. People are going to laugh in different places depending on what their experience with their families has been. Sometimes people will laugh at things that they recognize. Sometimes they will laugh at things because they are uncomfortable and don't know what to do. It is such a crazy mix. I think this show is supposed to make you uncomfortable and not really know what to laugh at. The mother would spray the father with water whenever he would do something she didn't like. You spray water on your pet when they do something you don't want them to do. When she did the spraying in a passive way, it was funnier to me because she seemed not to care and it was less aggressive, but when she took the time to look at him, it was less funny because it seemed more threatening. There was also another moment that was like that where Paige kept turning on the blender even though it made Isaac puke because of what had happened when he was at war. It is funny because she's doing it just to experiment and find out if that is what is making him puke, which is terrible, but the absurdity of the whole situation made it funny. I think that the writer did a great job at making us laugh and cry and cringe all at the same time.

This play shows you that this family isn't perfect, they aren't even good, but everyone in it is so compelled by the idea of family and how to make it what they want. Isaac, when he comes home, is expecting the family he remembers, but when he gets back everything is different. When he realizes that everything is different, he tries to make it what he wants, which is his father in charge again. It wouldn't make everything okay, but Isaac wants it because that is what he remembers. That is what his normal is. We know what the father used to want. He wanted everything in order and to have everything his way. And now he seems to be enjoying wearing a dress, having make-up put on, and wearing wigs. He seems comfortable being more classically feminine. But then when his son comes home and wants him to be a "man," he remembers who he used to be. He used to be an ultra-masculine guy who was a jerk. I think it is kind of sad because he doesn't seem to entirely want to go back. But he still does because he thinks that is what men are supposed to do. Max is also kind of persuaded by hir brother to behave in more of an ultra-masculine way. Hir family dynamic shifts around all the time. Hir father used to be in charge. Then hir mother was in charge and then hir brother came home and tried to change the dynamic back to what it was at first. You would think that as a non-binary person, Max would not like the new hyper-masculine structure of the family that is largely run by male power. But it is appealing to hir because ze definitely didn't want to be a girl anymore. I can't blame hir because it is hard to be a girl, especially a girl in this specific family structure. Paige's ideal family structure is a smart family that is not run by her husband and is perfectly open and progressive. But what she actually does when she is in charge is be abusive and aggressive whenever she doesn't get what she desires. She doesn't really want this progressive homeschooling family that she has created as much as she wants the opposite of what her husband wants. Basically what she wants is revenge.

There's a scene where they are fussing over the air conditioning, and it is between the three people (Arnold, Paige, and Isaac) who want to run the family. I think this is a metaphor. The air conditioner is kind of the house and the whole family. They all get into a fight without any words while they glare at each other while they do what they want. The air conditioner had always been a prominent issue in the show, so it is a great a metaphor for the family and how they feel like there can only be one person who truly runs the family. What happens to air conditioner in the end is what happens to the family.

People who would like this show are people who like plays about messed-up family dynamics, air conditioning metaphors, and blender experiments. I think this is a really sad but powerful story. I really enjoyed it and think everyone should get to experience it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

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