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Photo by Brett Boardman

Belvoir presents, HIR, by Taylor Mac, in the Upstairs Theatre, Surry Hills. August 16 – September 10.

HIR is a play by the American artist, cult figure -“A critical darling of the New York scene” –  Taylor Mac (also, referred too as, ‘judy’ – as in Judy Garland – as a gender pronoun).

In the Writer’s Note in the program:

I’m a lover and maker of the alternative, underground, and radical movements, and basically every work I’ve made is somehow rooted in a subculture. HIR, however, is a new kind of play for me, as it’s dealing with the mainstream; rather the remnants of the former body politic and the rise of a new progressive body politic.

Issac (Michael Whalley), a recently dishonourably discharged soldier (for drug problems) returns to the lower middle-class suburban home of his family. Since he was last there much has changed. Arnold (Greg Stone), the patriarch of the family has had a disabling heart stroke and his wife, Paige (Helen Thomson) has, at last, found herself liberated from the physical and psychological abuse of her world and has begun a revolution of a new behavioural mode that is beyond gender, beyond materialism, even beyond the past (history). She has dressed her husband in a dress and elaborate make-up and has decided the order of the house is not her responsibility or high on her new agenda. Included in her new agenda, way of life, is an active embracement and support of the transition of her daughter, Max (Kurt Pimblett) to another sexual identity. On the refrigerator door are some alphabet  magnetic letters that spells out LGBTTSQQIAAC and the new gender pronoun and its origin: Him and Her that has become Hir; He and She that has become Ze. This new world order in this suburban home with this family is a radical re-imagining of possibilities.

Writes Taylor Mac:

In my time since I left home (25 years), its been thrilling to notice how many of those queer refugees, along with the straight radicals (and even progressives), are exploding the oppressive traditions, dictates, laws, and culture we’ve inherited and are creating a new world order in our new homes. Sure it’s taking time, it should have happened long ago, and isn’t even close to actually being what it needs to be (in terms of dealing with inequality, climate change, and economic disparity), but it’s happening. There is tangible progress.

The two hours (including the interval) passes swiftly. The politics are sharp and are pleasantly funny (more often, hilariously so) and this is principally because the play has no anger, no self righteousness, no text book, academic blah, blah, blahing no pedagogic preaching, rather, it brings a modern, an ordinary family coping with the evolution of a more sophisticated world. I felt the world of the play was similar to Sam Shepard’s, THE CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS (1978) and its family, each with the same economic struggle but in HIR has the addition of a skilful focus shift to the sexual paradigm of today.

On a scarily recognisable, and cleverly detailed Set Design, by Michael Hankin, in both acts where a transformation takes place, Director, Anthea Williams, manages her actors through the chaos of the space. She is blessed with a wonderful full-bore characterisation from Helen Thomson, who has not been so good since her stand-out work on Shaw’s MRS WARREN’S PROFESSION, a few years ago. When given a character that is a challenge for her, the courage and skill of this artist comes to the fore – Ms Thomson is always a reliable comic but, it seems to me, when given more than that, transforms into a remarkable force of complex motivation. Her Paige is an unforgettable creation – the engine thrust of the play. Too, Kurt Pimblett, is arresting in the advocacy of Max and the transformative growth of the character. Mr Whalley and Mr Stone are suitably bewildered in the world that their Issac and Arnold find themselves in.

With this radical shift in the politics and order of this family there is, as Taylor Mac admits, ‘collateral damage’ which the two men of the play must bear – who are simply ‘two people who are in the world regardless.’ The violence of the last beats of the play, I assumed, after conversation with my friends after the show, was a statement by Mac, that it is the combative instinct of our species that will continue to undo us, prevent that evolutionary process from moving forward without bloodshed and exile – there will be a cost which must be, inevitably, paid. It is here that the Director, Ms Williams, fails to reveal what is happening in those final beats to clarify what we are meant to read from the stage offers. At the moment the production seems to finish precipitously in an opaque confusion.

HIR, is a highly recommended night in the theatre: Entertainment, Enlightenment, and for some of us, results in a state of Ecstasy. There is hope for a more enlightened way of living beyond the usual binaries. This production at Belvoir is as timely as our present political debate around Same Sex Marriage is.

N.B. Taylor Mac presents A 24-DECADE HISTORY OF POPULAR MUSIC as part of the upcoming Melbourne Festival in October.