There are so many layers piled up in American playwright Taylor Mac’s 2015 play “HIR,” currently being staged at Flying Anvil Theatre in the Rocky Hill neighborhood, it takes a while to sort them out.
Foremost is FAT artistic director Jayne Morgan’s tour de force performance as Paige, the wife and mother whose world has been thrown into chaos.
Stephen F. Krempasky’s set design, a trashed house with clothes thrown all over the floor and every surface above it piled up to a hoarder’s density, is the first evidence of the disarray in Paige’s life.
Arnold (David Silverthorn in a fine, almost wordless performance), Paige’s belligerently domineering husband who verbally and emotionally beat Paige to a pulp and kept every other detail of the family’s life in tight constraints, has suffered a debilitating stroke.
Set free of his strangling grasp, Paige retaliates by throwing order out the window, beginning with dressing up Arnie in a Ronald McDonald Clown’s wig and her blue and pink elephant pajamas and fuzzy yellow duck slippers.
In what might ordinarily be emotional piling-on, her daughter Maxine (a very effective Ezra Brown) is undergoing a gender transition to Max, who wants to be addressed by the gender-neutral pronoun hir (pronounced “here”), the new term for replacing the gender-specific him and her.
But Paige sees her child’s coming out as a release for herself. She has started her own business. She now exerts her control over Arnie. She runs the air conditioner at near meat-locker temperature to suppress odors and ensure that Arnie keeps wrapped up in the clashing housecoat she added to his diapered garb to absorb his constant drool. She just doesn’t do laundry anymore.
Then Isaac (Michael Marks in a crisp performance), the older son who has been thrown out of the Marines for drug use, arrives home, except the piled-up mess blocks his entrance through the front door.
With him comes the f-word language that used to jump out of bushes surrounding young people’s talk for a surprise impact but is now showing up everywhere. Paige isn’t liberated enough to like it.
All of this is just the framework around and through which Mac has woven his tight play. It is spot-on for the moment we find ourselves if we stretch this family conflict and re-imagination to societal dimensions.
Costume designer Marianne Custer gets every detail just right, especially Arnie’s deliciously humiliating outfit that could easily fit one’s choice of prominent figures in the current national picture.
But Mac has something on his mind other than just giving us a look at ourselves that has always been the underlying role of theater.
In his view, art has the redemptive power to lead us out of our current morass. It works for Paige. Her trips to museums restore her soul. She has to drag Max along and tries her best to take Isaac.
But Isaac is too much like his dad. He wants to exert control and restore order. There’s some value in that, in Mac’s view. But he works out the conflict between control and freedom through art in a dispute over the air conditioner thermostat.
HIR is a short play. But like the name of the theater where it is being performed, it’s a heavy weight.
HIR runs through Oct. 21. Check Flying Anvil’s website for tickets: www.flyinganviltheatre.com.