Hir at Mixed Blood Theatre

Sally Wingert and Jay Eisenberg in Hir. Photo by Rich Ryan.

Sally Wingert and Jay Eisenberg in Hir. Photo by Rich Ryan.

“Let’s put the fun in dysfunctional!” exclaims playwright Taylor Mac and – for a while, anyhow – he succeeds. The Mixed Blood stage for Hir (at MB through Mar 22) swirls with a wild scatter of dirty laundry (“I don’t do laundry any more,” asserts Mistress Paige, played by the great Sally Wingert. “I’m all about metaphor”), sprung furniture, unwashed dishes, crooked unicorn hangings, walls acrawl with filth. The nifty set design is by Joseph Stanley, who crafts beautiful work out of the miniscule Mixed Blood budget. Ditto costumist Trevor Bowen.

Wingert holds the stage, talking non-stop, wearing a lovely evil grin, dancing, delighting in a blur of genders – “We’re all lugabuttsquias! (a reference to the acronym LGBTSQIA; please don’t ask me to parse it), wearing the loudest pants suit you’ve ever seen. Paige makes scary “shakey-shakes” (ingredients: chocolate Ensure and estrogen; I’ll pass, thanks). Wingert holds the piece together with pure charisma. With another actor, Hir would have been like fingernails on a chalkboard.

(The title, BTW, is a combination of “his” and “her.” Ze combines “he” and “she.” In case you were wondering)

It’s hard to tear your eyes off Wingert, but when you do, you espy her hapless husband Arnold (played by the lumbering, lugubrious – and brilliant – John Paul Gamoke). Once commanding as the father, Arnold is now reduced to wearing a frilly see-thru slip, a fright wig, a bulging adult diaper (Don’t think about it!) and what the play refers to as “clown makeup.” To me his makeup made Arnold look like Gene Simmons on quaaludes. He moves in slow-motion, as if through a shakey-shake, and spends most of his time in Hir – thankfully – snoring on the sofa.

Into this insanity comes “I” – Isaac, the prodigal son, returned from a “war zone” (in Afghanistan, presumably) where his job involved putting severed limbs and dusty entrails into bags. Played with admirable outrage by Dustin Bronson, I simply cannot believe the repulsive horror his dear family has become. I received a dishonorable discharge for performing an anatomically impossible act – or so I choose to believe, in my cherished naiveté – with a prostitute.

Finally, we meet sister slash brother (take your pick), banjo picking (“I just wanna fuck it!”), culture-loving, madly masturbating Max. Ze is played with compulsive glee and crazed energy by Jay Eisenberg.

File Hir under Absurd Realism. Absurd, and funny, it certainly is. My laughter, for a solid half hour, was continuous.

But then queasiness set in. What once made us laugh, now, in its never-flagging relentlessness, begins to give us the serious creeps. The play never lets up. It rubs our noses in a vicious stew of brutality, abuse and urine-squirting hopelessness. My lovely companion and I went out into the frigid Minnesota night with upset stomachs.

One significant problem, and I believe Mac should be taken to task for this: Hir does not follow through on the promise, set up by Paige, that the play will intelligently explore gender-blurring (“We’re all everything!”), sexuality and how this affects the contemporary family, American life. I felt cheated.

So. Okay. I will confess that I did not, ultimately, care for Hir. But you might, and there can be no doubt that there is huge talent on display here: Mac writes with power, force and wonderful comic resourcefulness. Hir is well-directed (by Niegel Smith), and well-designed. And of course the acting thrills.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, will be published March 17, by Familius, Inc.

2 comments for “Hir at Mixed Blood Theatre

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  2. Katharine
    March 1, 2015 at 8:59 am

    While Joe Stanley designed the fantastically shabby set, Abbee Warmboe designed all the props you saw on it: from the unicorn hanging to the unwashed dishes to the piles of laundry on the floor. Props designers often go unnoticed, and I feel she deserves the accolade for this one. 🙂

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