Monday, October 10, 2016

Hir—Defunkt Theatre—SE Portland

A “Hir-Raising” Event
This very dark comedy is written by Taylor Mac and directed by Andrew Klaus-Vineyard.  It is playing at the Backdoor Theatre (in the rear of Common Grounds coffee house), 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd., through November 12th.  For more information, go to their site at

One way to describe this show is to quote from Eleanor in The Lion In Winter, “What family doesn’t have its ups and downs.”  But this group is even darker than her family, something akin to the skin-loving family in The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre.  In other words, a pretty dysfunctional gathering.

It seems that Isaac (Jim Vadala) has come home after three years from the wars overseas, after being dishonorably discharged for taking drugs.  What he is expecting to find on arrival is the home he left behind.  But, as Thomas Wolfe observed, “You can’t go home again.” 

Isaac is in for a rude awaking.  His “home” is in total chaos—literally.  The entire living area is covered in clothes, clean and dirty.  His mother, Paige (Paige McKinney) has become a cross between a martinet and Big Nurse from Kesey’s story.  She rules the roost with an iron fist and is taking no prisoners.  Conventional ways of doing things are out, including electronics, modernization and is concerned with turning the land back to the way Nature originally intended it to be.

His father, Arnold (Anthony Green), is pretty much a basket case.  He is dressed up in women’s clothes, wears diapers and is face is made up in clown make-up.  He has recently had a stroke, which has inhibited part of his body and slurred his speech.  He also may be taking female hormone pills.  He is kept sedated much of the time and prefers to sleep under a cardboard box.  It turns out he was a very abusive father and husband.

And his sister, now brother, (because of male hormone pills), Max (Ruth Nardecchia), seems to be still adjusting to “hir” (a word that encompasses both the “his” and “her” pronouns) place in life.  It seems that being in a commune with some anarchists is “hir” dream.  And Isaac realizes that something’s gotta give so he chooses to take charge and attempts to turn their world upside-down.

Will he be successful and turn his family into Ozzie and Harriet or will he change?  And just what is “home” anyway—four walls and a roof, or something deep in one’s psyche?  You’ll just have to see it for yourselves to find out.  The journey will be painful for all involved but change and evolution are inevitable…but at what price?!  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Klaus-Vineyard has painted a vivid, albeit explosive, landscape on which this creation exists.

His has cast well the parts.  Vadala is always an asset to a show and in this psycho world, he takes us on a roller-coaster ride where the ending is to be determined.  McKinney is downright scary in her cold, calculated version of the world.  Green enacts the confused patriarch is such a way that is unsettling, as you know there is still a human being beneath all the rubble.  And Nardecchia plays beautifully the struggle with gender identity that makes you understand the plight of many people like “hir” in this world, simply to find themselves and be accepted.

If you want a good Halloween story this may be it.  It’s scary, not from beasts in the woods but beasts in side of us.  I do recommend this play but, as you might have guessed, it’s not for everyone, so be warned.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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