★★★★☆ - Delicious
HIR, by Taylor Mac, is an interesting if convoluted script. When workshopped under a program of New Dramatists it was described as a comedic tragedy about the way we care for our dying way of life.
Here, art doesn’t so much imitate life as much as it portrays the ugliness and cruelty that can be borne of ignorance and an obstinacy to change. It’s a tragedy to view such dysfunction. But, it’s real, it exists. We face it, or we succumb.
Under the direction of Christopher Brown, with few exceptions, the production is top-notch. From Shannon Bradley’s set, Ace Van Acker’s lighting, to the props and costumes, there’s not much to call them on.
Valerie Carpenter-Bernstein as Paige is something to marvel at. Act 1 is pretty much hers. She’s got so many lines, you could almost call it a monologue as she rails against, and takes retribution on, her invalid husband. Deploring everything he stood for and everything she withstood from him, her rebellion is full-throttle. And Bernstein embraces it all with wild abandon. The sense of freedom she expresses permeates the room. Still, Act 2 brings a revelation that her world is crumbling around her and Bernstein’s entire countenance sags under the weight.
Her husband, Arnold, portrayed by Timothy Cummings, is as unlikable as they come. We learn just how unlikable through the family members. At first blush, actions and speech (what little there is) don’t come across as those of a stroke patient. But strokes affect different people differently. He is left to react to all that goes on around him, convincing us he’s now the victim rather than the perpetrator. His fear, his emasculation is there in subtleties. From the mewling in his throat to the creasing of the brow, Cummings brings it all. He dares to fight back, but the manner in which he does so proves to us he knows he’s lost.
Levi Fackrell plays oldest son Isaac, who embodies the stated theme of the play. He spends much of Act 1 on the same level. Even so, his initial shock at the condition on the home front manages to be both funny and poignant. It’s Act 2 that Fackrell really shines. It’s Isaac who makes the most fervent attempts to return to some normalcy, to care for his father despite the abuse. Fackrell manages to make us connect with him even as he’s encouraging the abuser to rise from the ashes of disability.
The HIR part of the script is in the form of Max, played by Brenna Folger. The intricacies of the new gender identity labels bring more dying ways of life to a family struggling simply to survive. Folger does terrific work here in the physical; masculinity is apparent in movement and speech, and in vocal tonality. The moodiness, the attitude of a teenage male is spot-on. The major issue is volume. While femininity should peek through every so often, Folger gets too soft vocally at times; lines get lost, swallowed up by atmospheric noise or the set.
Indeed, the way of life of this dysfunctional family is dying. On the surface, none of these characters is likable, and that may seem a reason to stay away. But, indeed, it’s all the more reason to see the show.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday – Saturday, through February 5
2 p.m. Sundays January 22 & 29
Where: Art Square Theatre, 1025 S First St, #110
Tickets: $16 - $20 (www.cockroachtheatre.com, 702- 818-3422)
Grade: **** Delicious
Producer: Cockroach Theatre; Artistic Director: Levi Fackrell; Director: Christopher Brown; Set Design: Shannon Bradley; Lighting Design: Ace Van Acker; Costume Design: Rebecca Edwards; Sound Design: Aaron Guidry; Production Manager: Scott McAdam; Stage Manager: Marni lewis