Theater Review: HIR (Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles)

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by Samuel Garza Bernstein on January 22, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles


Now at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Hir had its world premiere at Playwrights Horizon in 2015, engendering a rave in the The New York Times and going on to play internationally to enthusiastic reviews everywhere. I searched for other reviews because while the stated tone and subject matter of the show are what would normally be right up my alley, my own feelings about the show are decidedly mixed. So, I am puzzled. Is my lukewarm reaction a response to the play itself or to this production?

The story begins with Isaac Connor returning home from the marines after three years in Iraq where he had the macabre task of recovering the remains of dead bodies and body parts. He finds the family home in disarray that borders on hoarding, albeit with a festive, childlike air. And the changes to the house are the least of it. No one, not his sister nor either of his parents, is remotely the same as when he left.

Abusive dad, Arnold, has been tamed after a debilitating stroke. Mom, Paige, has taken control and is taking revenge — forcing Arnold into emasculating clothes and makeup, using estrogen to keep him docile, and spritzing him with a spray bottle of water whenever he misbehaves. Isaac’s sister, Maxine, is now transmasculine Max, using the pronouns “ze” and “hir.”

This is not the story of a family that comes together. Even the “normal” one, Isaac, turns out to have been dishonorably discharged for taking meth up his ass through a straw. In tormenting Arnold, Paige has grown into every bit the brute he was, abusing him mercilessly. Max is a walking contradiction. When ze rejected the prison of the cis-normative binary structure, ze became unwittingly ruled by the tyranny of a new set of behavioral and language rules.

Things turn ugly quickly with seemingly no other purpose than to revel in ugliness. It is a monsters’ ball where the characters take turns daring one another to acts of escalating cruelty. The unsatisfying tone is neither as absurdist nor as modern as the creative team would have us believe. There is so much yelling that you stop listening. The biggest shock is how tedious the enterprise becomes. It has the bile of Albee but the production doesn’t seem to be aiming for the depth or wit.

Paige, Isaac, and Max emerge as relentless narcissists, each hellbent on forcing the others to conform to hir, his, or her narrow worldview. Arnold is a pawn, too mentally compromised to control his own destiny. That these people are not meant to be “likeable” or “relatable” is a plus. Yet, under Bart DeLorenzo’s often frantic direction, Paige becomes grating and fatuous, Max appears as mentally deficient, and Isaac seems petulant rather than explosive.

The actors are marooned, caught in a vortex of repetitive motion and inflection. The exception is Ron Bottitta as Arnold, and therein, I suspect, lies the answer to my question about whether my issues are with the play or the production. Mr. Bottitta is mesmerizing, lewd and knowing in his clown makeup and sparkly nightgown. With few intelligible lines he manages to create a true sense of tension between the text and subtext. His performance points to an awfully interesting what-might-have-been, leading me to imagine it is the production that hasn’t lived up to Taylor Mac’s play. It remains puzzling.

photos by Enci Box

Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd in West L.A.
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 2; Wed at 8 (Feb. 20, March 6); Thurs at 8 (Jan. 31)
ends on March 17, 2019
for tickets, call 310.477.2055 or visit Odyssey

{ 1 comment }

Ekim Gill February 4, 2019 at 7:00 am

Usually, I just leave sub-par theatre alone to hopefully sort itself out for the next person. Or, is it really bad enough to comment on? Not sure what the authors of these glowing reviews watched, but sitting through this production was like listening to finger nails slithering down a chalk board. The screechy voices, the over-acting x 4, and then trying to understand the motivation of the characters. Or, just what the hell are they doing now? My husband and I have been to many plays at the Odyssey and they’ve ranged from OK to really good, but this one misses the mark. We stayed through it all, hoping the 2nd Act would be better. At $37 per ticket, we were at least hoping it would be. Not only was there none of the usual applause at intermission, just an awkward silence, but half the audience didn’t come back.

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