I won't spoil it for you, but there's a moment in the second act of Hir that's unforgettable. It's about 30 seconds long, it involves a baseball bat and a very strong swing, and it's noisy as fuck. It is, as they say, theater magic.
Those 30 seconds alone are worth the price of admission. They even make up for a bewildering first act that, if you aren't aware of what's coming, could cause you to leave the theater. (I left at intermission, stupidly, the first time I saw Hir in Minneapolis in 2015.) Stay for the second act, or stay because you feel particularly invested in stories about the American middle class, or stay because Hir playwright Taylor Mac is a certified (MacArthur grant–winning) genius.
"The great American middle class is not that great," Mac memorably said in a manifesto a few years back. Mac's gender pronoun is "judy," and if you're confused by that, don't worry—that's kind of the point. (Yes, it's probably a reference to Judy Garland, or "good judy," a term for a gay man who is also your good friend.) In judy's opinion, the Greeks and Shakespeare "didn't bother with the middle class because the middle class is boring." So it's a bit ironic that Mac, an artist known for making experimental cabaret-style productions, catapulted to genius status after writing Hir, a play about the middle class.
For the past four years, Hir has been a hit with theater organizations. There have been productions from Chicago to Sydney. Now, Seattle gets to add its name to that list. Directed by Jennifer Zeyl, this Intiman co-production with West Seattle theater ArtsWest accents the optimism (and tyranny) of a matriarchal coup inside a suburban starter home. Gretchen Krich's portrayal of Paige, the matriarch leading the coup, is fierce. She pumps out page-long speeches like they're quick asides. Her sons, Max (Adrian Kljucec) and Isaac (Evan Barrett), do the same, while the family's patriarch, Arnold (Charles Leggett), spends his time on stage addled by a stroke and mumbling in the corner. He's great.
The first act of the play is filled with so much woke speech that it almost becomes satire. Max (whose pronoun is the title of the play) is a recently out trans man who teaches hir brother Isaac (newly home from war) about the wonders of the trans experience. While this is in line with Intiman's season mission to feature work that is "wild, wicked, woke," Hir's 2014-era Tumblr slang feels dated. Queer people know this stuff already.
Hir has all the trappings of a kitchen-sink drama, complete with a dysfunctional family and a prominent kitchen sink. But the play really wants audiences to think it's something different. And that's where the material loses me. Is it really that radical to be hirsplained outdated gender theory? Hir ends up feeling like a queer show packaged for straighties.
But as Mac also said in judy's manifesto, "I believe all plays are flawed except the extremely boring ones so stop trying to make my play perfect." Of the many things it is, Hir is not boring. Stay 'til everything falls apart.