‘HIR’ — A Gender Bashing Romp not Quite There….

By Ernest Kearney  —  There is an adage in the creative pursuit of playwriting: “It’s easier to set them up than knock them down.”

How this translates, in actuality, is that there exists an awful lot of plays with very strong first acts which then proceed to unravel in the second.

Taylor Mac’s HIR currently at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble manages to be the exception that tests the rule.

HIR is your standard Kitchen Sink Drama that’s taken a detour through the bowels of Hell.  Imagine William Gibson The Subject Was Roses on a bad acid trip with Audrey from The Little Shop of Horrors replacing those roses.

Isaac (Zack Gearing) has returned from serving over in one of our current war zones, “home” is what he longs for with all that the term evokes.   What he finds is a hoarder’s hovel of dirty dishes piled everywhere and soiled clothing spewed about.

This is just for starters.

Father Arnold (Ron Bottitta) is wearing a cheap wig, pink slip, poorly done clown’s make-up and bounces about grunting like a lobotomized Hedgehog.

Mother Paige (Cynthia Kania) is keeping him over medicated, squirting him from a water bottle whenever he starts to fiddle with his manly member and generally bullying him with a good deal of glee.

Isaac’s sibling, Max (Puppett) his little sister is in the midst of gender-reassignment surgery and manages to be the least neurotic member of the family.

Paige educates her brutally bewildered son as to the proper terminology for the transgender community in respects to gender-neutral pronouns ey/em/eir or zie/hir/hirs.

Max is ostensibly the “hir” in question, though that may be opened to debate considering that Mac joyfully slices and dices all traditional sexual norms and stereotypes like a Benihana Chef on meth.

(l-r)  Zack Gearing, Cynthia Kania, Puppett in “HIR”  (Photo by Enci Box – Courtesy of Odyssey Theatre)

We quickly learn that Arnold left a lot to be desired as both a father and a husband. He was a bully and a physically abusive brute that sweated too much and ate hardboiled eggs in the shower, and Paige thinks the feminization of her spouse is a definite improvement.

Mac overloads his first act with Isaac’s outrage, and in doing so treats the audience to a dazzling display of comedic pyrotechnics.   But firework shows do not cut it as good theater.   Mac beats and pounds the fallacies and hypocrisies of the American nuclear family with a great deal of vigor but little insight or direction.  The first act is a lot of running around, kicking and shouting, but it feels aimless, like a soccer game where both teams have forgotten where the goals are.

Director Bart Delorenzo is a known talent, but here he’s at a disadvantage, like a juggler given only one ball to perform with.  In his program notes he proclaims that Mac’s comedy shouldn’t be “boring or preachy” and he’s right, and it isn’t.  But it should have a discernible point. The cast as well, suffers from the repetitions and lack of focus, especially Gearing who basically shouts non-stop from his initial entrance until the intermission.

The second act sees improvement, as Isaac, though he acknowledges Arnold’s unpleasantness as a human being, sets out to bring back the father he once knew, which infuriates his mother to the point of disowning him.

This introduction of some conflict between the characters and an impromptu puppet show staged underneath the kitchen table lifts the show significantly.

Oddly for all its outrageousness, absurdity and gender demolishing, HIR is rather pedestrian.   Mac, however, fills his two acts with appreciable wit and wackiness.   The cleverness of the dialogue is undeniable, “You can’t wash plaid,” Paige bellows to justify her refusal to do laundry, “it’s it own kind of filth!”

Unfortunately, Mac’s cleverness seems to lack a solid concept with which to adorn.  Mac tosses tidbits at his audience, the house is built on a land fill, Isaac was assigned to a mortuary detail while in service but they’re unattached to any larger theme.  To put it in a holiday context, it does no good how colorful and twinkly your Christmas lights are, if your audience is wondering where tree is.

But whatever HIR may lack, “weird” and “funny” it’s got.  And that ain’t bad.


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Now Playing Through March 17
Every Friday & Saturday at 8pm Every Sunday at 2pm

Wednesday at 8pm on Feb 20 & Mar 6

Post Discussion:

Feb. 20
Upon request for groups of 10+


Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda Bvld.
Los Angeles, CA 90025

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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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