Hir's set looks like the aftermath of an exploded American dream. The trashed starter house built on a suburban landfill is a character unto itself. The floor hides under mounds of dirty laundry. Mismatched frames of art hang in uncanny places. The kitchen counter looks like dishes have been ignored for a month. The fridge is plastered with rainbow alphabet magnets, arranged to spell "LGBTTSQQIAA" and other keywords like "louvre," "normative" and "hir." Defunkt Theater's low ceiling only makes the set feel more claustrophobic.
Hir (pronounced heer) is the chosen pronoun of Max (Ruth Nardecchia), a teenager in transition. Max's mom, Paige (Paige McKinney), must explain the dramatic changes in the house to her eldest son, Isaac (Jim Vadala), upon returning from war with a dishonorable discharge for a drug-related offense. Isaac has PTSD from three years of picking up exploded body parts, and pukes in the sink whenever Paige turns on the blender.
The absurdist bent to this dark comedy means Mom pulses the blender off and on to test her theory that it's what's making her son puke again and again. It would be funny if it wasn't so real. He also heaves when he first sees Max with tense muscles and sparse but proud facial hair, nervously defiant in a wifebeater tank.
Then there's the wretched shock of seeing Albert (Tony Green)—patriarch, king of the armchair, the real wife beater—now reduced by a stroke to a slow-motion sad clown, an actual man-child.
Paige is liberated by the emasculation of her formerly abusive husband, the absence of her militaristic son, the rise of her radical queer child and a Googled progressive education. She's ready for the new world, envisions it through Max's eyes, and even starts a nonprofit to make everywhere a safe space. She refuses to care for the broken house or her cruel, babyish husband according to the rules of the Old World. The question is asked: "How are we supposed to care about the things that have become burdens?" Paige may be liberated from her burdens, but the youth inherit their parents' mess—landmines, dirty laundry and all.
This play is not trying to pass as normative living-room realism. At one point, it uses shadow puppets to play out past family trauma after a secret drag closet is revealed. But the conflicts between the different expressions of masculinity embodied in each character are as nauseatingly messy to navigate as the house itself. Queers should see this play for the radical in-jokes; muggles may watch and learn because it's exhausting to teach Sex and Gender 101 one by one.
SEE IT: Hir plays at Defunkt Theatre, 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd., defunktheatre.com. 7:30 pm Thursday-Sunday. Through Nov. 12. $10-$25.