Review: Shakespeare & Company presents Taylor Mac’s “HIR”

Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Adam Huff in HIR. Photography by Emma Rothenberg-Ware

by Mark G. Auerbach

In recent years, Shakespeare & Company has gone beyond the Bard to present an eclectic mix of contemporary plays alongside the Shakespearean classics. Taylor Mac’s HIR is onstage at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, a lovely performance space on the theatre’s Lenox, MA campus.

I’ve always wanted to see something by Taylor Mac, the American actor, musician, playwright, and performance artist, who’s one of the theatre’s most innovative presences these days. A winner of a MacArthur “Genius” grant, Mac made international news with his A 24-Decade History of Popular Music. His newest play, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, is headed to Broadway this season with stars Andrea Martin and Nathan Lane. ,

Adam Huff in HIR. Photo by Eloy Garcia.

HIR, Mac’s  2015 portrait of the ultimate dysfunctional family, made the New York Times Top Ten for that year. A soldier comes home from Afghanistan to find his family in distress. His mother’s gone mad, his sister is now his transgender brother, and his father is nearly speechless after suffering a stroke. Battling cultural stereotypes in a starter house that’s falling apart, the family is trapped by gender stereotypes, physical and emotional abuse, drug addiction and scars, and they seem incapable of saving themselves. Mac has created some interesting characters, and some dialogue which runs the gamut from laughs to shock, Of the four characters in transition, the transgender son is the best written, and the most sympathetic, likely to succeed on his own terms.

Alice Reagan’s staging balances the offbeat in Mac’s script, and the productions values, from Carolyn Mraz’s sets and Charlotte Palmer-Lane’s costumes to Deb Sullivan’s lighting and Amy Altadonna’s sound, are all terrific in the intimate theatre space. It’s the performances, however, that give HIR its substance. Elizabeth Aspenlieder is terrific as the frazzled and unnerved matriarch; Shakespeare & Company veteran John Hadden is moving to watch as the speechless father. I especially liked both Adam Huff as the soldier and Jack Doyle as his brother.

Adam Huff, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, John Hadden in HIR. Photography by Emma Rothenberg-Ware

HIR borders on outrageous, and it has plenty to say, but I’m not sure that it adequately showcases Mac’s genius; Shakespeare and Company’s production and performances are good, considering the challenges put forth in the script. In this family, it’s the transgender brother who knows where he’s been and where he’s going, and gender barriers and stereotypes won’t get in his way.

Shakespeare and Company presents HIR by Taylor Mac. Directed by Alice Reagan. Scenic design by Carolyn Mraz. Costume design by Charlotte Palmer-Lane. Lighting design by Deb Sullivan. Sound design by Amy Altadonna. Cast: Elizabeth Aspenlieder (Paige); Jack Doyle (Max); John Hadden (Arnold), and Adam Huff (Isaac) through October 7.. Shakespeare & Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St, Lenox, MA. Massachusetts.. 413-637-3353 or www.shakepeare.org.

Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio. Mark produces and hosts ArtsBeat Radio on 89.5fm/WSKB Radio.

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