Kitchen sink drama should be regarded as a sub species of the family drama that held sway not only in Britain but also especially in the United States. From the beginning of the 20th century to the present it is the staple and glory of American drama. HIR (pronounced here) is a prime example for the 21st century. Taylor Mac is a playwright who shows you that imagination and creativity can still breathe life into an old form. In almost the same time frame Stephen Karam is pushing the boundaries of the family drama with his The Humans. They are two very different plays, but they both show the genre still has a long life in front of it.
While British playwriting went through its revolution in the 1950s, American drama gained its in the 1960s. New emerging playwrights upended American drama including, of course, the family drama. HIR is descendent of Edward Albee, Sam Shepard, David Rabe, Mac Wellman, Christopher Durang, and from the current generation throw in for good measure some Nicky Silver and Del Shores.
Taylor Mac, in New York parlance, is a downtown artist. HIR was his first venture uptown when Playwrights Horizon produced HIR in its 42nd Street theatre in the fall 2015. Born and raised in California, Mac came to New York in 1994 to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Art. After graduation he remained in New York. Playwrights Horizon is an organization devoted to new plays by unknown playwrights and plays that deserve to be produced but are bypassed as too risky by the commercial theatre.
For more information on Mac and HIR, go to this link. Scroll down to find an interview with Mac and Tim Sanford, artistic director.
Mac’s most recent event has been the production of the staggering 21½ hour performance of A 24-Decade History of Popular Music covering American popular music from 1776 to 2016 presented at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. Mac created, starred in and designed the costumes for it. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in drama for the year. Wesley Morris in the New York Times, called it, “one of the great experiences of my life.” Mac will be performing it again September 2017 at San Francisco's Curran Theatre.
Playwrights Horizons’ production of HIR garnered much praise from the New York critics. Charles Isherwood in The New York Times wrote: “…[U]nless you have seen the sensational—in all senses of the word—play by Taylor Mac, you cannot consider yourself an authority on this ever enduring genre [the family drama] of American drama.” Hilton Als in The New Yorker observed, “ ‘Hir’ has a lot of ideas—necessary ideas, especially when it comes to flinging open closets in the ‘trans’ world—which spill over the edges of the play, but I wouldn’t take much out in order to make the show dramaturgically tighter or easier to absorb. The rudeness of its form is part of its power; you can’t build a clearer future without making a mess of the past.”
HIR is a family drama, kitchen sink style, for the 21st century. It is timely, topical, funny and outrageous. Mac has called his play “absurd realism.” He says he has been thinking about this play for 17 years. Little did he know that it was going to be as timely and topical as it is with the transgender character Max. The characters discuss gender, what makes a home, the patriarchal white male and the plight of the returning veteran from the war zone. While Mac pushes the dramatic limits, he also expresses ideas in an outrageously humorous turn.
Paige: Once I learned one thing, I could learn another. And pretty soon I could start coming up with my own theories, or at least theories I hadn’t heard from other people first…. This is my theory. We all come from fish. My whole life I’m told I was made out of a rib…. But I wasn’t a rib. In actuality I was, we were all, TRANSGENDER FISH.
The question of the transgender individual can no longer be pushed under the rug, put out in the rain, or as a number of groups wish be banished from this earth. A tweet from the White House solves nothing and only causes confusion. The company for this production has learned much and discussed much both about the play and with the transgender actor Hunter McMahon. As he (or in the terms of the play, ze) said succinctly one evening: “I’m a male. I just want to pee. Why does that bother people?” We have been so fortunate to work on the play and to have the company that we have.
Springfield Contemporary Theatre’s production of HIR is the first in Missouri; Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City is slated to present it in the spring. The famed Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago currently has performances through August 20. The publicity release from Steppenwolf says, “Don’t miss this disarmingly funny, absurd, and surprising look at a reimagined American family.”
We hope to see you at Springfield Contemporary Theatre for performances through August 20.