Mixed Blood’s Hir opens with one of the most spiritually shocking series of images in recent memory on local stages: a small suburban Everyhouse piled with trash, laundry, and dirty dishes; a middle-aged man shambling incoherently in a house dress and clown make-up; and a family mother (Sally Wingert) bristling with an unhinged energy of exaltation and liberation with weird undertones of something darker.
The family’s son Isaac (Dustin Bronson) has returned home from war overseas just moments before, and he’s as dismayed as we are. His difficult reentry isn’t eased when his teenaged sister Max (Jay Eisenberg) makes the scene as the Hir of the title—pumped up on testosterone, growing a patchy beard, and spouting grad-school discourse on gender theory.
Taylor Mac’s play is one of the most daring I’ve come across, and this Niegel Smith-directed production hits all its weird notes with a disturbing clarity that makes the experience bracing, nothing less than thrilling. The effect is near-perfect: What at first seems like an overdrawn farce evolves into a strange realism as lines are drawn and redrawn, the gender politics of the family are stretched to break, and the characters earn our sympathy as fully drawn, living individuals.
It’s not an easy experience, although it is damn entertaining. The performances are delivered with just enough electricity to maintain a balance between the absurd, the tragic, and the particular: There’s an alchemy between the four performers (John Paul Gamoke turns in brave work as a once-cruel, now ruined father) and a fearlessness that thrills, as well as earns hard-won laughs throughout.
Hir is a show that will make your mind rattle like a popcorn popper, and your heart lurch with shades of the American experience and the sense of pressures having built to bursting across the suburbs both literal and figurative. It’s also, easily, one of the best shows I’ve seen in Twin Cities theater over the past half decade.