A play described variously as “hilarious,” “terrifying,” “ferocious,” “intense,” and “crazy,” HIR is a tale difficult to categorize. Which is just the way playwright Taylor Mac wants it. With a reputation as avant-garde and fostering “absurd realism,” Mac – who prefers the pronoun Judy – is probably best known for breaking theatre and cultural boundaries. Just a year ago, Mac created an immersive 24-hour piece containing 246 songs and 13 hours of text telling 240 years of American history – and he was onstage the entire time! The production won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Special Award and an Obie Award and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama.
In HIR, Mac takes the traditional nuclear family and slowly tears it asunder. Humor, satire, and tragedy comingle with startling results. The Connor family is in the midst of a transition when son Isaac (Zack Gearing) returns home from Afghanistan. Dishonorably discharged from the military for being overly fond of narcotics, Isaac arrives at his middle class home to find that drastic changes have overtaken the family during his three-year absence. It seems that patriarch Arnold Connor (Ron Bottitta), who enjoyed knocking around his wife and kids, had a stroke which left him completely debilitated. His mother Paige (Cynthia Kania) has taken the opportunity to create a new family dynamic with her at the helm. And Arnold definitely the lowest on the totem pole. But Isaac’s biggest surprise becomes his sweet younger sister, who has renamed herself Max (Puppett) and turned into Isaac’s brother overnight.
Paige has also developed brave new ideas, which are in total opposition to the wifely/maternal role that Isaac grew accustomed to as he was growing up. Cleaning, washing, and cooking have gone the way of the dodo bird. The house is a mess, and the family is a mess. On top of that, there doesn’t seem to be any way for Isaac to turn things around. Posttraumatic stress disordered Isaac may crave order and predictability, but they no longer exists in his corner of the world. If you want to find out how the play’s name came about, you’ll have to experience HIR.
Skillfully directed by Bart DeLorenzo, HIR explodes beyond its confines with dark humor and irreverence. The talented ensemble cast keep the story popping in unexpected and very funny ways. Scenic designer Thomas A. Walsh has outdone himself in creating the most uninviting, formerly completely traditional, home imaginable. Costume designer Merrily Murray-Walsh deserves special kudos for her creative and sometimes shocking cast attire. The entire production team has done a terrific job of making the ridiculous painfully real. AUDIENCE ALERT: HIR is funny, clever, and often outrageous – but it may be an acquired taste for some more traditionally-minded patrons.
HIR runs through March 17, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays (2/20 and 3/6 only), Fridays, and Saturdays and at 2 pm. on Sundays. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. Tickets range from $32 to $37, with $10 tickets available on Friday, 2/22/19. Additional discounts for seniors, students, and patrons under 30 are available for select performances. For information and reservations, call 310-477-2055 or go online.