Belvoir tackles gender, war, money and modern America
“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