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Ar­shdeep Purba and Mu­n­ish Sharma

The Georgia Straight - - Arts - By Photo by Tim Math­e­son Pho­to­graph: Ray­mond Kam

dHIR’S AWARD-WIN­NING play­wright, Tay­lor Mac, uses the gen­der pro­noun judy. Gen­der­fuck­ing theatre and art worlds—which are still heav­ily bi­nary and het­eronor­ma­tive—is a cre­ative and po­lit­i­cal act, and it’s vi­tally im­por­tant. Hir takes its ti­tle from the port­man­teau of him and her, and is pro­nounced “here”. Hir and ze are the pro­nouns for Max (Jor­dan Fowlie), which comes as a sur­prise to Max’s brother Isaac (Vic­tor Dol­hai) upon his re­turn home af­ter three years at war. In Isaac’s ab­sence, teenage Max has come out as a gay trans man, their abu­sive fa­ther, Arnold (An­drew Wheeler), has had a de­bil­i­tat­ing stroke, and their mother, Paige (Deb Wil­liams), has be­come a bit un­hinged.

Hir is sup­posed to be a dark com­edy, and there are quite a few funny mo­ments, but it’s also dev­as­tat­ingly sad and com­plex, ex­plor­ing the in­ter­sec­tions of class, gen­der, queer­ness, fa­mil­ial vi­o­lence, PTSD, trauma, ad­dic­tion, and the pa­tri­archy. Isaac’s re­turn dis­rupts the frag­ile and fraught new re­al­ity his fam­ily has cre­ated with­out him. The legacy of Arnold’s vi­o­lence is ev­ery­where, as is the ex­tent to which it’s been nor­mal­ized. Max re­coils ev­ery time Arnold grunts, but also raises hir fist to the older man as a threat fre­quently, and swats hir mom al­most as a re­flex. Isaac, who’s cop­ing with ad­dic­tion, has in­ter­nal­ized his fa­ther’s anger and made it his own. Paige in­sists that the house be kept an un­tidy dis­as­ter—arnold would break fingers for dirty dishes—and now she de­rives plea­sure from hu­mil­i­at­ing and emas­cu­lat­ing Arnold. She makes him wear a dress, hoses him down naked in the back yard, and sprays him with a wa­ter bot­tle when­ever he does some­thing she doesn’t like.

But Paige and Max are also free, sort of, both in their rel­a­tive safety and in the life they’ve cul­ti­vated since Arnold’s stroke—a life largely built around Max’s tran­si­tion­ing. “Max saved me. I didn’t have to be beat up by your fa­ther. I was a fa­ther,” Paige tells Isaac as she at­tempts to ex­plain the gen­der and queer the­ory she’s been learn­ing and ap­pro­pri­at­ing from the home­schooled, Google-ed­u­cated Max. It’s telling that Paige po­si­tions her new­found safety in re­la­tion to claim­ing her own mas­culin­ity, and then to wit­ness how she and her sons per­pet­u­ate the cy­cle of vi­o­lence in so many dif­fer­ent ways.

Leav­ing the per­for­mance, I over­heard some 60-some­thing au­di­ence mem­bers talk­ing about Hir, call­ing it “edgy, risky, and provoca­tive”. It is provoca­tive—in some pow­er­ful ways and in oth­ers that are frus­trat­ing—but Hir also feels out­dated be­cause the lan­guage around gen­der and sex­u­al­ity has evolved as more trans women and trans men are telling their own sto­ries and tak­ing con­trol of their nar­ra­tives.

Pi Theatre’s cast­ing of Fowlie, a trans man, in the role of Max is im­por­tant, and it’s also an ex­cel­lent cre­ative choice. Fowlie is fan­tas­tic and his per­for­mance is nu­anced and vul­ner­a­ble. And what Wil­liams does with Paige is re­mark­able. What­ever wacky, smart, cruel, in­ci­sive, gen­er­ous, or hor­ri­fy­ing thing Paige does is rooted in her own trauma, and Wil­liams never lets us for­get that. The en­tire cast is rivet­ing, and un­der Richard Wolfe’s di­rec­tion, the two hours fly by.

Hir pre­miered in the United States in 2014, and this pro­duc­tion in 2018 marks its Cana­dian pre­miere. Four years have changed every­thing and noth­ing, de­pend­ing on who you are and the space you claim with your priv­i­lege. Hir doesn’t re­flect where we are now, but it does re­flect some as­pect of where we’ve been, and the in­cred­i­ble per­for­mances by this cast are worth your time.

An­drea Warner

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