Cast of "Hir". Phil Fiorini, Sam Cordes, Carla Noack, and Ahafia Jurkiewicz-Miles. Photo: Cynthia Levin

The Unicorn Theatre closes out its current season with one of the most remarkable pieces of theater I’ve seen in quite awhile. The title of the play, “Hir” (which is pronounced “here”) is a reference to gender pronouns preferred by people that don’t identify with a traditional gender – it’s a mixture of “his” and “her”. And there is a transgender character in the play. But you would be wrong to assume that it’s just about coming to terms with gender identity issues.

It tells the story of a young man, Isaac, who returns home from the Marines with a dishonorable discharge, only to discover that his family has changed to such an extreme that he doesn’t even recognize it anymore. It turns out that during his absence, Isaac’s abusive and racist father has had a stroke, and his mother is taking advantage of that fact to humiliate him. The house is a wreck because his mother is rejecting anything that smacks of patriarchy. And Isaac’s little sister is transitioning to his little brother.

The play starts out as a kind of zany comedy, with such an overdose of absurdity that all you can do is shake your head and laugh. As Isaac struggles to understand the changes, and bring back some sense of the normalcy that he remembers, he sets in motion a chain of events that result in consequences he wasn’t expecting. By the second act, the comedy has disappeared. This play is really a tragedy with a very dark heart.

I’m not sure how long it’s been since I’ve seen a cast playing such extremely different characters work together so well. Each actor has to play two layers, and they are all magnificent at this. Phil Fiorini plays the father; whose mental damage can’t quite cover up his old cruelty. Carla Noack plays the mother, whose freewheeling sense of humor covers up a rage beyond her control. Ahafia Jurkiewicz-Miles plays Max, a teenager with gender and hormone issues, and symbolizes the greater chaos in the family. Sam Cordes plays Isaac, and while he is the least eccentric character, he has perhaps the hardest job of all, an ex-soldier who may have PTSD who is not quite equipped to handle the fact that his childhood his dead.

Different audiences will react to this play (and even to the characters themselves) in different ways. It’s a fast-moving tale that throws out more ideas than can be digested during the show. What I got out of it will likely not be what you get out of it.

But that fact makes for the best kind of theatrical experience – one that sticks in your head and sparks thoughtful conversation long after you’ve left the theater.

Hir plays at the Unicorn Theatre through June 24. For tickets and more information,


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