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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
The night I went to Playwrights Horizons' Peter Sharp Theater, the elevator was on the blink. It turned out that all the money spent on PH's beautiful current home didn't allow for a freight or other emergency elevator (isn't that some sort of fire hazard?) And so I climbed to the fourth floor venue (which is really the sixthth floor) hoping HIR would be as fresh and cleverly subversive as the advance promotional material promised.
The good news first: HIR is a wildly ambitious attempt to create a cohesive whole out of a merger of issues: the effect of continued downward mobility for bottom-of-the-economic heap Americans, and the fallout of domestic abuse and changes in gender identity within such families.
Kristine Nielsen certainly carries off the absurdist style Mac has chosen to portray his decidedly dysfuntional family. Nielsen's Paige is the central character — a housewife and mother in a depressingly more Americam Nightmare than American Dream who's used her abusive husband's stroke and new attitudes about gender identity to break free from caring for him and the drudgery of maintaining a house that was never a home.
Daniel Oreskes, a seasoned actor often playing Shakespearian roles, is remarkable as the husband she's now emasculating. Cameron Scoggins is aptly distraught as Isaac, the returning Marine who finds his home as disturbingly hellish as the war zone in Afghanistan he just left. Besides the physical mess to make him upchuck repeatedly, there's the state his father Arnold and sister Maxine. Dad talks in blubbering monosyllables and is bizarrely attired in a dress and wig; sister Maxine (Tom Phelan) midway into transgendering into brother Max.
The not so good news: The over-the-top style Mac has chosen to introduce us to this uber dysfunctional family is certainly apt. Unfortunately it's not consistently edgy and clearly deetailed enough to make HIR as momentously deep and far-reaching a deconstruction of conventional family dramas as it wants to be. The look at inexpensive starter houses which, unlike the post World War II Levittown houses, never had the potential to seed solid communities loses impact when combined with the transgender pronoun issues from which the play takes its title.
Max's seeing himself as neither he or she or him but "hir" and his mother's monologues on her new gender semantic vocabularly and self-empowerment are funny. The problem is that the whole concept fizzles in the depressingly dark and essentially go-nowhere second act.
I suspect that both the playwright and director Niegel Smith expect both the reason for Isaac's dishonorable discharge and the change in scenery between the first and second act to be truly surprising. But while Isaac's dismissal is not exactly what's expected, the post intermission shift in David Zinn's set is as predictable as the announcements and actions that will send Isaac back to the kitchen sink to throw up again and again.
In the end this look at a family that has, as Isaac puts it, become homeless in their own home, is more tragic than funny. It left me wishing Taylor Mac had been able to fully realize his key theme: that liberating oneself from imprisoning life styles doesn't doesn't mean you' get out of jail really free.