Over the years, the LGBT community has embraced other letters for its “alphabet soup.” “Q” signifies queer or questioning people. “I” is for intersex and “A” includes allies. Canadians add the number “2” to represent the two-spirit beliefs of its native peoples.
In his play, “Hir,” which opened last weekend at Island City Stage, Taylor Mac extends the alphabet soup nonsensically: LGBTTSQQIAAP. One can only imagine exactly what all those other letters could mean, even in this politically-correct era of extreme sexual orientation and gender identity inclusion.
You won’t find the letter “D” in any of these combinations—at least not yet—but the most descriptive and accurate words to describe Mac’s family dramedy all begin with Ds:
The Connor family is profoundly “damaged,” both as a unit and individuals.
Isaac (Daniel Capote) is a war veteran who served in the army morgue and was dishonorably discharged for drug abuse. He returns to his childhood home to discover his father, Arnold (Larry Buzzeo), has suffered a stroke and is being humiliated daily by his mother, Paige (Mia Matthews), who feeds the man estrogen in his protein shakes and dresses him in outlandish wigs and women’s nighties. Max (Jacob Michael) is Isaac’s self-absorbed transgender teen brother and mom’s co-conspirator in the anarchy that has erupted in the household.
As Isaac struggles to comprehend the “disorder” that “disrupts” the family he left behind, Paige reveals that his father was physically and emotionally abusive—no secret there—and cheated on her with her hairdresser. Everyone in the family is a victim of PTSD, not the kind Isaac still suffers from the battlefield, but the variety inflicted by a friendly combatant in the home.
Isaac reflexively seeks to restore his household to the way he remembered, tidying the unkempt house and returning his addled father to a position of authority. His efforts are met with violent responses from Paige. Max enables her, justifying the bizarre and cruel treatment with his own perceived repression by society and history. (He demands to be referred to as “hir” instead of him or her and plans to study “hir”-story.)
Mac’s dialogue is “delicious.” There’s nothing contrived about the plot or the characters and that is apparent in every carefully-crafted sentence, especially the melodramatic, hormonally-fueled diatribes from the transgender teen Max.
Solid “direction” is also a key to this production. It would be easy to let the characters devolve into caricatures, but director Andy Rogow milks the laughs from his cast without turning the play into a “demented” episode of “Married with Children.”
Matthews channels some serious Kathleen Turner circa “Serial Mom,” but beyond the sinister machinations, she is masking deep-seated emotional wounds. Michael, a 21-year-old trans man, has been through many of these situations recently and offers as authentic a performance as possible. Capote has perhaps the most complex character, one who must reconcile the natural urges to earn approval from his father, while fighting drug abuse and accepting that his childhood is over. And then there’s Buzzeo, who never ceases to surprise audiences. He has the most difficult role of all, convincingly portraying a stroke victim with just a couple of dozen lines throughout the play.
Kudos should also go to the army of stage hands and props mistress Denise Profitt, who transformed Jodi Dellaventura’s incredible working set from a “disaster” to “delight” in just 10 minutes during the intermission.
Make no mistakes, gender identity is a central plot point to “Hir,” but by no means is that all. This play confronts many issues that families—LGBT or whatever—face and Island City Stage’s “decisive” production should not be missed.
Island City Stage, 2405 N. Dixie Hwy. in Wilton Manors, presents Taylor Mac’s “Hir” through Dec. 3. Tickets are $35 at IslandCityStage.org.