San Diego Theater Review: HIR (Cygnet Theatre)

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by Milo Shapiro on October 16, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Him…Her…Them…Zir…Hir?  In the transgender and non-binary community, the struggle with pronouns almost rivals the struggle with civil rights. Hir, now in a San Diego premiere, is both the title and a gender-neutral pronoun combining “his” and “her” (and pronounced “heer”). Its world is the creation of singer/songwriter/ performance artist/playwright Taylor Mac (who prefers to be called “judy,” a pronoun more than a name; hence the lowercase “j”), whose predictably provocative play details an unforgettable anti-family. Take “unforgettable” as you will.

In this dark comedy, Max (played by Avi Roque, who is, “themself,” non-binary) wants to be referred to as “Ze” instead of he or she. “Hir” mother, Paige (Deanna Driscoll), is beyond supportive, jumping to apologize for anything less than 100% backing of her daughter’s every pontification.

In a nightmarish, haphazard living room, which looks like it has been ransacked (great work by scenic designer Sean Fanning), Paige is caring for her husband Arnold (Joel Castellaw) since a stroke has left him physically and vocally challenged. Or rather, not caring for him, for Paige takes pleasure in dressing him in women’s clothes, spraying him with water if he does anything she dislikes, and leaving him to sleep in a box by the door — all revenge on what a rotten husband he was before. Everything about this place says serious dysfunction with Paige as queen over it all.

Soon after meeting the married couple, with offstage calls to Max in hir room, enter the prodigal son, Isaac (Dylan Seaton). He is the Marilyn Munster of this house of insanity; the voice of normality entering Transsexual Transylvania, if you will.

It’s not that Isaac, coming home from service in Afghanistan, is particularly close-minded. It’s that this household is too much for anyone to quickly adjust to. When he left, Dad ruled the roost, Mom followed in suffering, and Max was just Maxine. Now political correctness dances close to lunacy as even cleaning is considered an oppressive act.

Driscoll (so great in last year’s Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds at Cygnet and even more unforgettable in Hand To God at the REP) gleefully parades, dances, commands, and relishes her newfound matriarchy and sadistic control of Arnold. Max spouts gender theory at will. Isaac begs and pushes for rational thought.

The problem is that the set-up is delightful…and then goes nowhere.

All of the antics that started so brightly become tiring as nothing much happens. The Act II set change gives us hope that something big is coming, but it’s short-lived and feels like more of the same. There are some revelations but nothing that propels the story much, leading to an ending that feels like someone yelled “end scene” on an improv skit rather than finding any real resolution. And what a shame, because the acting and energy are superb; but the play, which seems to want to say something, doesn’t make us feel or think very much — other than that we’re glad that’s not our own family. Perhaps the message is that cisgender people can be just as screwed up trans folks, but after so much ado, the takeaway needs to be so much more than that.

photos by Karli Cadel Photography

Cygnet Theatre Company
Old Town Theater, 4040 Twiggs St.
Wed & Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on October 28, 2018
for tickets, call 619-337-1525 or visit Cygnet

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