Presented by Apollinaire Theatre Company
Written by Taylor Mac
Directed by Brooks Reeves
Review by Noelani Kamelamela
Chelsea, MA — This month, Apollonaire Theatre Company tackles Hir, Taylor Mac’s comedy of manners fixing conservative against expansive American views on gender, class and sex. It is understood, even in the writing, that quite a few of the concepts will cheerfully ride over the heads of the audience. Advanced gender studies classes may not be enough of an education to appreciate the entire play, but the production unfolds for as more than just the text: with costume, set dressing, emotion, repetition, intonation and even art in the lobby to bolster meaning and heighten context. At 120 minutes with a single intermission, the time passes quickly, but I do caution people who are sensitive to issues such as domestic violence, elder abuse, teen bullying, and post traumatic stress disorder to perhaps read a synopsis or steel themselves to potentially be triggered.
The protagonist Isaac (Alexander Pobutsky) left the military to come home to his family. He did not anticipate the changes of the past three years. His younger sibling transitioned from female to nonbinary transmaculine. His mother transitioned from housewife to single parent. His father transitioned from independent adult to a physically and mentally disabled man.
The initial scenes feel like a classic Columbine hates Pierrot Commedia dell’Arte plot point as everyone’s individual imperfect pasts are revealed. Humor is drawn from the misunderstandings and misdirection between and amongst the characters. The tragedy that stains that comedy is that none of these four people may truly belong together nor are they capable of attaining some kind of harmony.
In Hir, most characters talk around their problems. They are allowed to lack in both wit and sophistication for different reasons. They don’t tell lies, exactly, but they are limited and unable to speak intelligently about ideas they don’t understand.
Arnold (Floyd Richardson), Isaac’s father, is the most extreme example of limitation. Arnold’s mistreatment in the show is ableist. From the top of the show his disabilities are talked about as if he is not mentally present. He is referred to as a burden; he is treated as an animal. This upset me and even various explanations of Arnold’s violent past didn’t relieve me of that upset.
While I’d normally hate watching yet another show about white people tearing each other apart because they don’t know how to honor boundaries, I really appreciated the overall presentation of the transgender character Max (Lou Annlouise Conrad). While it is clear that Max leads a lonely and anxious existence, hir mother attempts to do the best she can to support hir and encourage Isaac and his father to support hir as well.
Instead of being the world’s best trans teenager, Max is uniquely bratty at times and does not seem to be a pastiche of transgender folk mingled together. The rapport between Max and Paige (Danielle Fauteux Jacques), hir mother, seems both familiar and tense in the way that teens and parents can be both emotionally distant and close at the same time.
Apollinaire Theatre Company will bring Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, a Victorian era comedy of manners, in April to the same space.