Hir is the perfect play for the latter-day theatre-lover. It’s packed with as much comedy as it has drama, as many pop cultural references as it contains political debates. Indeed, Hir is so here and now, it’s no wonder audiences are divided by its intense relativity. And Black Swan State Theatre’s current production is certainly intense.
But the question is, does the play’s narrative celebrate difference and the ever-accelerating changes taking place in our modern world, or does it question the postmodern state, kind of wishing things stayed ‘normal’?
To get to the complexity of the production and its content, consider the synopsis:
US marine, Isaac, returns from the war in Afghanistan. Well, not so much ‘returns’ as he has been kicked out of the force due to being caught having crystal meth blown up his butt. Isaac’s job in the war was picking up pieces of blown-up bodies, so he’s keen to return home to a somewhat less messy scene. Instead he enters a family home that is in absolute disarray; his father slumped on a sofa after having suffered a stroke, now dollied up in clown drag; his mother having taken over the role of house master and spouting post-political speak endlessly; his sister transitioning to becoming a brother, oversensitive on the steroids and intense in her reactions to a negatively run patriarchal world thus far.
Heavy much? Heavy, yes, but oh-so humorous in its dealing with heavy subjects.
Each character here verges on caricature: Isaac getting away from chaos only to re-enter a home that is now akin to an insane asylum; his mother going through some kind of peri-menopausal erratic phase; his dad once as machismo as they come until a stroke turns him into a eunuch; his sister/brother so engrossed in political correctness he/she/zee doesn’t realise how offensive he/she/zee is being to everybody else…
The title of the Taylor Mac penned story, Hir, purposely plays on notions of gender neutrality: ‘Hir’ of course being a blend of ‘him’ and ‘her’. Yet instead of presenting a non-binary ethos in all its unbound beauty, Hir throws chaos into the debate, creating an argument as intense as if Germaine Greer were dualling with drag star RuPaul (hint: Greer is not the greatest fan of trans).
For this reason, I enjoyed this play. It boldly treads with other productions fear to tread, bringing up ideas about sex and gender that many of us think and feel but are too afraid to express. It is bold in its presentation of delicate topics, and daring in its relaying of various perspectives of what it should, or could, mean to be male, female, masculine, feminine, or any of the many shades in between.
Trans activists may feel Hir deals too flippantly with a subject matter that is otherwise more often reflected on in a serious, somber-like tone, but I say damn the politics for one night. Go along and enjoy a show that does, at its heart, celebrate diversity all-round. Antonino Tati
‘Hir’ is on at Studio Underground, Heath Ledger Theatre, Northbridge, until May 27. Tickets are available at www.bsstc.com.au.
Photography by Daniel James Grant.