Belvoir tack­les gen­der, war, money and mod­ern Amer­ica

Time Out (Sydney) - - Inside - By Dee Jef­fer­son. Photograph by Daniel Boud

“JUST…CATCH UP. THE world is go­ing for­ward. There’s no time to be wor­ried about gen­der. Gen­der isn’t rad­i­cal. It’s not even pro­gres­sive. It’s an ev­ery­day oc­cur­rence.”

This line in Taylor Mac’s fam­ily drama Hir is de­liv­ered by the 17-year-old trans­gen­der ‘baby’ of the Con­nors fam­ily, Max, but it might be right out of the play­wright’s mouth – or, in­deed, that of Anthea Williams, who is helm­ing Belvoir’s forth­com­ing pro­duc­tion. As Williams tells it – and con­trary to much of the me­dia cover­age – Hir is not re­ally a play about gen­der, even though the fam­ily mem­bers spend a lot of time talk­ing about Max’s tran­si­tion, and the play is named for a gen­der-am­bigu­ous pro­noun. Williams says, “When Max says that line, it has echoes to me of talk­ing to my fa­ther about fem­i­nism, and – like so many young pro­gres­sives – say­ing, ‘What we need to worry about is the world, and look­ing af­ter each other, and the en­vi­ron­ment; can you just deal with these is­sues [fem­i­nism, gen­der] and get on with them – be­cause there are other things that are more ur­gent.’” The di­rec­tor de­scribes Hir as a play about place, about tran­si­tion, and about con­tem­po­rary Amer­ica. It was writ­ten be­fore Trump ran for pres­i­dent (it pre­miered in 2014 at San Fran­cisco’s Magic The­atre) but is premised on “the fail­ure of white Western mas­culin­ity” and the de­cline of Amer­ica’s white work­ing class. “The pa­tri­arch of the fam­ily, Arnold, has

The play is premised on the “fail­ure of white Western mas­culin­ity” and the de­cline of the white work­ing class

been re­placed in his job as a plum­ber by a Chi­nese Amer­i­can wo­man. And then he had a stroke. And his wife Paige thinks it’s fab­u­lous. She talks about this power that white medi­ocre men used to have, think­ing they were do­ing ev­ery­thing for the world when they weren’t even lift­ing their own weight.” Hir starts with the re­turn of ‘prodi­gal son’ Isaac, re­cently dis­charged from the mil­i­tary’s ‘Mor­tu­ary Af­fairs’ de­part­ment, to his ‘prairie-style’ fam­ily home in the Cen­tral Val­ley of Cal­i­for­nia. What he finds is a dif­fer­ent kind of bat­tle­ground: his abu­sive fa­ther is in­ca­pac­i­tated, his mother is on a cam­paign of self­dis­cov­ery that in­volves tear­ing apart all the old regimes, and his younger sis­ter Max­ine is now Max, and prefers to be ad­dressed us­ing the pro­nouns ‘hir’ (in­stead of her or him) and ‘ze’ (in­stead of she or he). “Ev­ery­one in the play is in tran­si­tion,” says Williams. “Max is just the most overt. The play is ad­dress­ing the fact that if we change, there are peo­ple who are go­ing to win and lose. Is Amer­ica go­ing to run away from its past and its re­spon­si­bil­ity to be new and fab­u­lous – and for­get about all the Arnolds? Or is Amer­ica go­ing to bring ev­ery­one along on the jour­ney to the ‘new’?”

Hir, Belvoir St The­atre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills 2010. 02 9699 3444. belvoir.com.au. $37-$72. Aug 12-Sep 10.

L-R: Hir di­rec­tor and cast mem­bers He­len Thom­son, Michael Whal­ley, Anthea Williams, Kurt Pim­blett and Greg Stone

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