There is lots of press about this exciting play signaling a new age for Steppenwolf. Perhaps the writers don’t remember all the way back to Hull House, even to Highland Park, where Steppenwolf cut the teeth of Chicago theater goers on thoughtful, forceful plays where miscreant protagonists expressed their anguish with screams and fistfights, and the denouement left you gasping.
HIR stage set for chaos
HIR is that type of play, a return to Steppenwolf’s roots in absurd realism, featuring two of their almost original company members, Amy Morton and Francis Guinan, in stellar roles. Morton (Paige) is the extremely depressed wife of stroke-victim Guinan (Arnold). She is the caregiver from hell. Abused in marriage, she now controls her debilitated husband and transqueer teenage girl. (Max, played by Em Grosland). Chaos reigns as Paige is willingly trapped in a decision-less world—laundry is clean, but never folded and put away, there are no meals, only eating, Max, who is home-schooled, educates Paige. The life and environment of this extremely dysfunctional family is elevated to the absurd by playwright Taylor Mac. The first act is profoundly sad.
Enter Isaac (Ty Olwin), returning after three years with the Marines in Afghanistan. His stage role is to bring order out of chaos.
"Life is not the finishing of events. It is a continuation. Each day you do what needs to be done with the understanding that there is no end to the doing. You find pleasure in the doing or you live in a tornado." - Isaac from HIR, a play by Taylor Mac
In the Marines, he picked up body parts from the battle fields; now he enters a family home furnished with necrotic litter. He tries unsuccessfully to control the dynamics between his mother and father, between himself and Max. True to its genre, there is no salvation for this family.
How Steppenwolf sets the stage
The actual stage in the Downstairs Theatre is a tweak on the sensibility of the audience. Old fashioned, heavy velvet drapes—one set of red traveler curtains and a second set of medium blue fixed tableau curtains—define the proscenium stage. Footlight shells form a semi-circle at the edge, staging suitable for a melodrama or vaudeville show. When the travelers part, the scene is the chaos of the family living room, the anthesis our expectations.
HIR requires a special theater goer who seeks immersion in the profoundly lost world of characters they will likely never know in real life. For those patrons, this is a most rewarding production. Kudos to Morton and Guinan, who never disappoint. Likewise, Grosland and Olwin are excellent as the flawed spawn of this hellish marriage.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Running: June 29 – August 20, 2017
Steppenwolf Theatre Company
1650 N Halsted Ave, Chicago, IL 60614
For more information, visit the Steppenwolf website.
Editor’s Note: For more insight into this production, read Picture this Post writer and HIR Assistant Dramaturg, Lauren Katz, "Steppenwolf Theatre HIR Preview: Lauren Katz Explains– What Does A Dramaturg Do?”
For a full preview of Steppenwolf's 2017-2018 season, read "Steppenwolf Theatre Company Presents 2017-2018 SEASON Preview."
And for an alternate interpretation of this play, read “Steppenwolf Presents Taylor Mac’s HIR Review- Patriarchy Parody” by Amy Munice."
Ann Boland is committed to Chicago theater. Involved in the audience since the early 80’s, she’s witnessed firsthand the rise of our theater scene, our exceptional local talent, and the vigor of each new generation. Ann handles public relations for authors and works on programs to help patients with neurological movement disorders. Learn more at www.annboland.com.