Absurd dark ‘Hir’ comedy is highly relevant

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Amy Morton (Paige) describes the alphabet of gender designations as Francis Guinan (Arnold) holds up the blackboard sign in 'Hir' by taylor Mac at steppenwolf. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Amy Morton (Paige) describes the alphabet of gender designations as Francis Guinan (Arnold) holds up the blackboard sign in ‘Hir’ by Taylor Mac at Steppenwolf. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Not Him, not Her but ‘Hir.’ The title sums up the gender neutral and cross gender designations of the thought processes, actions and reactions in the Taylor Mac play now at Steppenwolf Theatre.

Paige, the mom, perfectly portrayed by Amy Morton as a woman finally liberated from a tyrannical husband and household drudgery, says “I don’t do laundry anymore.” She adds, “We don’t do order.” Paige encourages her daughter to take testosterone shots.

The daughter, Max/Maxine, finely articulated by Em Grosland, well explains the world as seen by Mac, a highly honored playwright who has adopted the gender title of “judy” (yes, lowercase) to describe himself.

Then there is Arnold, Paige’s husband well interpreted by Francis Guinan who, before he had a stroke, expressed his extreme dissatisfaction with a changing, more culturally accepting society by beating up everyone in his family including the dog. Paige is feeding him estrogen hormones and puts him in a dress and wig to emasculate him.

Em Grosland (Max), Amy Morton (Paige), Ty Olwin (Isaac) and Francis Guinan (Arnold) in 'Hir' at Steppenwolf. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Em Grosland (Max), Amy Morton (Paige), Ty Olwin (Isaac) and Francis Guinan (Arnold) in ‘Hir’ at Steppenwolf. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Complicating the scenario is Isaac, the “prodigal” son portrayed by Ty Olwin, a dishonorably discharged marine. He comes home from Afghanistan to find a messy house and a disabled father who is more like a clown than the fierce neighborhood nemesis he had been.

The initial shock of seeing ‘Hir’s’ messy set that opens Act 1 role forward on the stage with a grotesquely made-up, seated clown-like figure, becomes more understandable when Paige declares she is now free to work outside the home and does so and later, when Isaac reminds his dad that he used to beat up the family.

Coming to Chicago shortly after the Pride Parade and court rulings on gender neutral bathrooms, the play is a relevant look at some of the changes taking place while also delving into the anger displayed from some segments of the old guard who still believe in cultural, religious and sexual discrimination.

Directed with great insight by Hallie Gordon, ‘Hir’ is a well-thought-out absurd dark comedy by Mac, a multi-talented New York playwright, actor, director, producer, performance artists who has received, among other honors, the Kennedy Prize, the Helen Merrill Playwriting Award, a NY Drama Critics Award and two Obies.

DETAILS: ‘Hir’ is at Steppenwolf, 1650 N. Halsted St, Chicago, through Aug. 20, 2017. For tickets and other information call (312) 335-1650 and visit Steppenwolf.

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