Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Hir

Your Family Might Not Be the Craziest Option This Holiday……
By Lauren Yarger
If you are dreading Thanksgiving and the family time it brings, think again. Your crazy uncle Harry or weird Aunt Sally might look pretty good when compared to the bizarre family in Taylor Mac’s Hir getting a New York premiere Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons where it has been extended through Dec. 20.

This family gives being stuck eating turkey with odd folks a certain dignity. Because you haven’t really defined odd until you meet this clan created by Mac and directed here by Niegel Smith, who is the artistic director at the Flea.

First of all, most everybody coming to the theater is asking how to pronounce the title. What does it mean? Well, it sounds like “here” and is a gender neutral pronoun to use when referring to a transgendered person, instead of his or her. The term comes into play when Isaac (Cameron Scoggins) returns from several tours in a war zone, where he specialized in collecting the blown-up body parts of his fallen comrades-in-arms to send back home. The experience has left him shaken and unable to stop throwing up. After dreaming of coming home for so long, Isaac discovers that he has just walked into another war zone.

His father, Arnold (Daniel Oreskes), had a stroke over a year ago and his mother, Paige (Kristine Neilsen), failed to let him know. She has been enjoying torturing the man, who wanders around in a diaper and dress, forced to do Paige’s bidding in their shabby home (designed by David Zinn), which is kept a mess (she refuses to clean) and frigid with an air conditioner kept running full blast against Arnold’s wishes (a metaphor for the icy atmosphere in the home, no doubt.) 

Arnold gets sprayed with water like a disobedient pet if he doesn’t obey, or sometimes, just because Paige feels like it…..

If that weren’t enough, Isaac discovers that his sister, Max (Tom Phelam) is now his brother, Max. Apparently she/he has decided to go for hormone therapy, grow a beard and change genders (unfortunately Smith casts a male in the role. Why not a transgenedered or male-looking woman?) It’s a lot for Isaac to take in all at once, but when he gets his bearings, he tries to support Max, but can’t get behind his mother’s cruelty to his father, even if it is payback for years of treating his wife horribly.

Can this family find a way to forgive and support each other? While the questions raised are thought-provoking, the over-the-top environment in which they are explored makes them hard to relate to and leaves us not quite sure what we’re supposed to think about anything. 

Paige is pretty much insane (though any time we get to see Nielsen play a crazy woman, it’s worth the price of the ticket) and needs some heavy duty therapy immediately. Her husband and son/daughter need to be removed from an unhealthy environment and Isaac’s attempts to clean up their mess are inadequate, especially since he has his own, very big issues looming.

It’s an engaging, if puzzling two hours. 

Hir is extended through Jan. 3 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 and 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 and 7 pm. Tickets $65-$80: www.TicketCentral.com; (212) 279-4200.

Christians might like to know:
-- Obvious sexual identity issues-- Max also thinks "hir" is gay, because now that she's a he, he is attracted to men.....
-- Max considers Noah a genderphobe because he took male and female animals aboard the ark.
-- Sexual images
-- Sexual dialogue
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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