Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

Hir
Cockroach Theatre Company
Review by Mary LaFrance


Timothy Cummings
Photo Courtesy of Cockroach Theatre Company
Like Humpty Dumpty, some things just can't be put together again. In Taylor Mac's dark comedy Hir, young ex-Marine Isaac has been dishonorably discharged from his post as a collector of human remains on the battlefields of Afghanistan, and returns home to find the American Dream—or his version of it—dismantled and tossed to the winds, which pretty much reflects the condition of his childhood home when he finally manages to shove his way through the debris and piles of laundry via the back door.

While Isaac was picking up body parts and partaking of meth through various body cavities, his family underwent some changes. His father Arnold, a misogynistic racist who physically abused his wife and children and alienated his customers, was fired from his plumbing job and replaced by a Chinese-American woman. This humiliation triggered a stroke that has rendered Arnold helpless. Arnold's wife Paige gleefully embraces her newfound power, and the abused becomes the abuser.

Paige pumps Arnold full of estrogen to keep him docile, makes him sleep in a cardboard box, dresses him in nothing but a flimsy slip and an adult diaper, and finishes him off with garish make-up and a rainbow-colored clown wig. When he misbehaves, she casually sprays him with a water bottle. In Paige's household, the strictures of the old regime are replaced with deliberate chaos. Laundry is no longer folded and put away, but strewn about the floor and tangled amongst the toppled furniture. Cleaning is forbidden.

Isaac's younger sibling Maxine has undergone some changes as well; no longer Isaac's sister, Max is now his brother. Despite Max's obvious pride in sporting newly minted muscles and facial stubble, Max insists on being referred to by the gender-neutral pronouns ze and hir. When Isaac attempts to bond with his new brother on the subject of hot chicks, Max rebuffs him by announcing that ze is gay—that is, ze has chosen to be a guy rather than a gal, but ze is still attracted to guys.

Taylor Mac's play is both funny and deeply disturbing, a delicate balance that demands an excellent cast and strong direction. The Cockroach Theatre Company delivers on both counts. Director Christopher Brown keeps the pace moving and procures natural performances from his talented cast. The pivotal conflict is the battle between Isaac and his mother for command of the household—the old order versus the new disorder. The intensity of their struggle ramps up to an explosive crescendo.

Brenna Folger is convincing as the transitioning Max, full of raging hormones and swagger, whose loquacious lectures on gender politics cannot completely mask the tumult of teenage insecurity.

As Isaac, Levi Fackrell seems slightly miscast, because he lacks the physical presence and bearing one expects from a Marine, even a failed one. This dissonance, however, is consistent with a young man who has made poor choices. Fackrell's performance becomes more compelling as Isaac unravels, and when he finally unleashes his fury the moment seems inevitable. He is indeed his father's son.

The heart of this production, however, lies in the stunning portrayal of abusive co-dependents Paige and Arnold. Valerie Carpenter-Bernstein as Paige is a force of nature, alternately giddy and steely, walking a fine line between free spirited and simply insane. On the opposite end of the spectrum, uttering barely a handful of words in the course of two hours, Timothy Cummings is riveting as the helpless, drooling, and semi-comprehending Arnold. His stage presence has never been more apparent. Through the subtlest of gestures and expressions, he makes clear that the heart of an abuser still beats underneath his infantilized exterior. The effect is chilling.

Shannon Bradley's delightfully messy set design is practically a fifth character in the play, creating a visual metaphor for the topsy-turvy universe that Isaac can no longer call home.

Hir continues through February 5, 2017 (Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, Fri., January 27 at 8 pm, and Thursday, February 2 at 8 pm) at the Art Square Theatre, 1025 S. 1st St., # 110, Las Vegas, NV 89101. For tickets ($20, $16 for students, military and over 55) and further information, go to www.cockroachtheatre.com.

Cast

Isaac: Levi Fackrell
Paige: Valerie Carpenter-Bernstein
Max: Brenna Folger
Arnold: Timothy Cummings

Additional Creative

Lighting design by Ace Van Acker; Sound design by Aaron Guidry; Wardrobe design by Rebecca Edwards.


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