Everyone is a Little Bit of Everything
Taylor Mac and Hir

When we think of Taylor Mac, what do we see?  An immediate rush of beautiful colors and wild theatrics, creations grand in both presentation and content. From A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, in which he engages the audience in exploring how communities are built (“through dire circumstances”) while performing a concert revue of our last twenty-four decades of music, to The Lily’s Revenge, a five-act, five-hour piece with a cast of forty with each act directed by a different director, Taylor approaches theater with absolute abandon.

Taylor Mac. Photo: Xanthe Elbrick.

So some may find Taylor’s new play Hir, opening at Playwrights Horizons in October, a bit of a departure. Lose the glitter, tone down the lights: this is a kitchen-sink drama, set in what he calls “Absurd Realism.” Yet Taylor, who often appears in and sometimes self-produces his own work, explained that, during his twenty years as a dramatist, this isn’t his first venture into realism: “I’ve written other plays in this form, they just haven’t been done. I just never felt like I should have to produce a kitchen-sink drama, because they get done all over the place.”

Hir is about a suburban family in which Isaac, a young man, has returned from the war to find that his father Arnold has had a stroke and is no longer in control of Isaac’s now liberated mother Paige and newly transgender brother Max. What ensues is a wildly hilarious, but often touching struggle to create a new world order, while still dealing with all that gets left behind in its wake.

From Hir:

PAIGE

We don’t do places anymore.

ISAAC

You just put things in random cupboards?

PAIGE

We don’t do cupboards anymore. We don’t do order. Places and cupboards are what your father wanted so now they’re your father’s job. And since he just likes to stand by the door hoping to flee, the house is a disaster.

(During the following, ARNOLD gets up and stands by the door)

ARNOLD

Door.

PAIGE

He likes to escape and waddle through the neighborhood tract yards of mediocrity. You have to keep an eye on him. We’re becoming the talk of the block. People wave at us. They never used to wave. Now they wave. They don’t say hi. Just wave. Arnie, away from the door.

Taylor says Hir is part two of his “Dionysia Festival,” a collection of four plays “exploring our cultural polarization, through the lens of family, from love, from economics, and from politics.” While the final play is still being written, the other plays include The Fre and The Bourgeois Oligarch, both of which are anything but kitchen-sink; the former is about an intellectual literally stuck in a swamp by anti-intellectual mudslingers, while the latter sets its gaze on a tactless donor speaking to several artists while a full ballet unfurls around them at the Boston Opera House.

What is fascinating about the seemingly disparate plays in the “Dionysia Festival” is how Taylor portrays the separateness of people in tandem with the want for closeness.  And what he explores with such compassion is the human struggle to recognize the need for change—to actually create change, and then to deal with the repercussions.

During our conversation about Hir, Taylor shared a story with me: he was walking through Union Square when he came upon a man screaming at himself, violently hitting a stone wall. While his first reaction was to offer comfort, the fear of being attacked himself kept him from approaching. And so, he reluctantly walked away, just like everybody else, leaving the man to do damage to himself. Lately, Taylor said, he’s been thinking about experiences like this one, “All the things I’m ignoring. And so I bring that into the room; that is my job as a theater artist.”

While Hir is not an autobiographical work, it does take place in the Central Valley of California, the area Taylor is originally from. “I needed to walk away from Stockton, California, to survive and flourish,” he told me. “I need to acknowledge that I walked away. So I don’t have to be alone with it.” In the play, Max, the transgender character, is a catalyst for his family to progress forward from the patriarchal norm.

From Hir:

PAIGE

Max is the root of who we are. Truly. The root of who we are and the cusp of the new. There has never been any such thing as men and women and, Isaac, there never will be. You know all those pretty fish in coral reefs? They’re transgender. It’s true. I looked it up. When Max was getting beat up in school, then coming home for more, from your father, I didn’t know what to do. They kept saying, “It gets better!” but it didn’t seem like it was going to get better, so I started search-engine-ing. I started to learn things. It was like being baptized, only without the male-dominated hege-monic paradigm. Everyone is a little bit of everything, Isaac. We’re simply us. Hir.

[Gesturing to the house disdainfully]

Not here.

[Feeling all around her body parts, sensually, and then throwing her arms out and up, as if to say her body is all genders and it must be shot out into the universe]

But HIR.

That “Everyone is a little bit of everything” is an idea that circles around much of Taylor’s work. It’s a notion that infuses his work with complexity, as his characters never stay fixed and still in who they are long enough for us to close our opinion on them. In Hir, Isaac arrives home determined to resuscitate his seemingly defunct family; however, it is not long before he discovers that he himself is not so different from his formerly (pre-stroke) controlling father. Taylor says, “For much of my life I’ve identified as male, and we men—progressive men, or men trying to be caring—we say we want things to be different, but then we kinda behave in a way that perpetuates patriarchy, privilege, and power.” There’s a conflict in Isaac: he says his father was an asshole, “I’ll now be in charge, I just won’t be the asshole.”

What often makes Taylor’s work so dramatically invigorating is watching his characters shift slightly within their own belief system as they bang against others in an effort to discover who they are. In the play, Max is desperate to establish hir transgender self; however, Taylor approaches this through delicate exchanges between Max and Isaac as siblings who still share a childhood.

From Hir:

ISAAC

You should have friends. Actual friends.

MAX

It’s not that easy.

ISAAC

Find a stranger, ask a question, listen to the answer, then ask a follow-up question.

MAX

That’s a really problematic way of reducing the issue.

ISAAC

It’s not that hard.

MAX

There is literally, not figuratively, but literally nobody in a hundred-mile radius that is like me.

ISAAC

I’m just saying—

MAX

I don’t need you to protect me anymore.

ISAAC

Okay?

[Slight pause.]

MAX

I talk to these guys on the Internet that live in a place called Wolf Creek. It’s like a commune but for anarchist queers, so way cooler. It’s a five-hour drive away but Paige won’t let me go alone and it’s not really the kind of place you want to go with your mother so—

ISAAC

You want me to take you?

MAX

Oh god no. Ha. I’m sorry. No. No. I just. No. Ha. No.

ISAAC

Okay!

MAX

I just mean, I don’t think they’d appreciate me bringing my straight Marine brother. Or they would. But not for real reasons, more for, sexual-predator-humor reasons, or . . . I don’t know.

ISAAC

It’s fine.

MAX

I just mean, you’d mess up the safe space.

ISAAC

?

MAX

The whole point is that it’s a place made so people don’t have to deal with things that are problematic.

ISAAC

I’m . . . problematic?

MAX

Yeah. You are. A little. It’s not your fault. It’s just, or maybe it is your fault but it’s not really about you. [Slight pause] Are you mad at me?

ISAAC

I don’t have to stay. I could just drop you off for a bit.

MAX

Really?

ISAAC

I guess.

MAX

I’m sorry. It’s just, it’s okay that you don’t belong everywhere, right? I mean, the world is made for people like you.

While much of Hir is wonderfully fast-paced, and very, very funny, these more intimate scenes shinebecause they allow us to connect with those parts of ourselves we aren’t sure of, our ambiguities of character that don’t become certain no matter what our age. Taylor says, “Something happens in lots of young, trans men, trying to figure out what it means to be a man in a culture that oppresses, where the male way is to oppress. How do they function in that world?”

Taylor sees his work as presenting questions about the world we live in, but not the answers. While his politics and worldview are clearly within the worlds he creates, he feels his place as the playwright is not to give solutions. Instead, he says, “Maybe someone in the audience will have a solution. I don’t want to write a play where I know what the answer is.”




Hir, written by Taylor Mac, directed by Niegel Smith, runs October 16 – November 29, a Playwrights Horizons production in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (416 W 42nd Street, Manhattan). For tickets and more information: www.playwrightshorizons.org/shows/plays/hir. For Taylor’s website: www.taylormac.org.

Contributor

Matthew Paul Olmos

MATTHEW PAUL OLMOS is a three-time Sundance Institute Fellowship/Residency recipient, New Dramatists Resident Playwright, Center Theatre Group LA Writers Workshop Playwright, Oregon Shakespeare Festival Black Swan Playwright, Princess Grace Awardee in Playwriting, and the inaugural La MaMa e.t.c.'s Ellen Stewart Emerging Playwright Awardee as selected by Sam Shepard. Also an Ensemble Studio Theater lifetime member and two-time Resident Artist at Mabou Mines/Suite as mentored by Ruth Maleczech. His work has been seen both nationally and internationally and is published by NoPassport Press and Samuel French. For more information, visit matthewpaulolmos.com.

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