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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
This is a family on the downward side of the American dream. They're still in their cheaply-constructed starter home after more than twenty years.
Father Arnold (John Hadden) has suffered a stroke after being replaced by a Chinese-American woman in his plumbing job. Paige, (Elizabeth Aspenlieder) his formerly abused and now abusive wife, has decided to reimagine life in a grotesque and twisted revenge motif.
Daughter Maxine is now Max (Jack Doyle) and transitioning into a gender neutral entity called either "hir" or "ze." Isaac, in full PTSD mode after three years in the Marines' Mortuary Service picking up various body parts, wants everything to be as it was when he left, as bizarre as that may seem. At least his own room might offer comfort, but like everything else in this story, all bets are off.
Aside from the truly quirky tics of each family member, the condition of the house is enough to set the audience scratching imaginary rashes and squirming at the disarray of Paige's rebellion. The matriarch of the family played with brilliant mile-a-minute personality changes by Aspenlieder has abandoned all pretense of housekeeping. Laundry strewn all over the appropriately imagined chaotic set by Carolyn Mraz may incite in some audience members a compulsive need to vacuum after play's end.
Paige's crows of a "paradigm shift" in response to every mutinous revelation announces the joy at upsetting the status quo of her former life. Aspenlieder walks the fine line between monster and victim with aplomb and wit in one of her finest performances at Shakespeare and Company.
Arnold, the once domestic tyrant, now a drug and estrogen subdued stroke victim, responds to her constant chatter with a vacant and contorted facewhich only occasionally hints at his inner violence. Hadden is Aspenlieder's match in spite of his limited verbal reactions. His eerie presence, which telegraphs the gamut of human emotion through silence or limited mutterings, continues to control the family. Hadden's intelligent quietude provides a haunting parallel to the family's constant motion and clamor.
Paige's vengeance now dominates her every waking hour along with some of her misguided support or rather mis-appropriation of Max/Maxine's attempts to reassign "hir-self" a new identity. But Paige is in for a nasty surprise as Max is contemplating a different reality from the "hir" that mother has envisioned for the two of them, now allegedly liberated from the patriarchal power of the past.
Jack Doyle's Max is sly, winsome and determined to redefine his life. Doyle's subtle control of his performance creates great empathy for the child /man, he/she human trying to emerge into "hir's" own definition of the pursuit of happiness.
Isaac's shock and dismay is understandable. Returning from the war zone, in need of familial comfort, and is instead is thrust into a situation that defies logic. In spite of having enlisted in part to flee what he originally saw as a terrible home life, he returns to something so outre that he immediately sets about trying to restore the only world he knew and thought he had escaped.
Adam Huff's Isaac, tries to hide his failure and humiliation with the false bravado of a marine, ashamed that the war has broken something in him. His deep seated anger and even deeper longing for love and acceptance drives him to a palpable desperation which resonates in Huff‘s performance.
The "homelessness" of Mraz's excellent and deranged set is complemented by Deb Sullivan's atmospheric lighting which underscores the characters's mental states. Charlotte Palmer-Lane's costumes add the salient touches to round out each persona.
Though act one is a very black comedy, act two careens us into a "disturbia" of conflicting human behaviors. Love and hate collide and the end of the play leaves the audience in a momentarily, and deservedly so, stunned silence.
Director Alice Reagan, who directed a terrific OR at Shakespeare and Company two years ago, once more demonstrates her talents by delving into a complex script with great sensitivity. Along with an accomplished cast and creative team, she delivers a solidly cohesive absurdist commentary on the domestic state of the union. Together they mine every nuance of Taylor Mac's vision.
Mac links 21st century ethos to the echoes of the 20th and joins Miller, O'Neill, Shepard and Pinter in plumbing the depths of a family's painful incompatibility and cross purposes. is funny and terrifying. Be brave!
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Hir by Taylor Mac
Directed by Alice Reagan
Cast: Elizabeth Aspenlieder (Paige) Jack Doyle (Max) John Hadden (Arnold) Adam Huff (Isaac)
Scene design: Carolyn Mraz
Costume design: Charlotte Palmer-Lane
Lighting design: Deb Sullivan
Sound design/ Composer: Amy Altadonna
Assistant Director: Mary Corinne Miller
Stage Manager: Fran Rubenstein
Running Time: Two hours; one intermission
Shakespeare & Company, Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, Lenox, MA
Opening 9/13/18; closing 10/7/18
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at September 15 performance
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