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San Francisco’s Magic Theatre is focusing on developing new plays.  Four world premieres dominate the current season, and Hir by Taylor Mac is its current offering.  The playwright has identified a genre for his play, “Absurd Realism”, and it is easy to see how the phrase applies when you experience Hir at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco.

Director Niegel Smith has staged a play that is intellectually challenging, entertaining, beautifully designed and executed by its technical staff, and acted with great dramatic and comic skill and conviction by the entire cast.  There are masterful moments of poignant commentary and pantomimic dramatization to exemplify the concept of absurd realism. The play itself, however, is in need of a more impelling dramatic action.

Isaac (Ben Euphrat) has returned home to his family from Afghanistan after three years of service as a U.S. Marine.  He was dishonorably discharged for reasons that go without too much detail, but what we are privy to is quite enough to explain his exit from the military.  His hope to return to his concept of home is derailed when he arrives to find his father debilitated by a stroke, his mother disengaged from the conventional realities of everyday routines, his younger sister in the midst of gender reassignment, and their house in a condition that resembles a landfill more than a home.

The scenic design by Alexis Distler serves as a visual metaphor for the action of the play.  We see the bare structure of the house walls, and through its wooden framing we are allowed to see through the facades and illusions that permeate the characters. The house is a collection of garbage and neglect in which Isaac seeks to restore his image of a home.

Isaac is referred to as “I” throughout the play, and the use of pronouns is prominent and important.  A lesson in gender neutral pronouns is presented in the course of the action.  Her and him become one word, hir, pronounced “here”.  He and she become ze, pronounced “zay”.  These pronouns serve to blur the lines that define a person in society. The less a person can be categorized and judged, the more a person can be accepted for their true self without comparisons to others.

His mother is Paige (Nancy Opel), who has ceased to buy into the notion that she no longer has the responsibility to care for anyone or anything.  Paige feels as though there is now a new paradigm that expands what is acceptable in society.  This leads her to the logical conclusion that she shouldn’t care about anything at all.  This is absurd realism, something taken to its extreme without violating plausibility.

She imposes a vengeful, sadistic tyranny over her husband, Arthur (Mark Anderson Phillips). Arthur was once a sadistic tyrant himself and has recently suffered a stroke which partially paralyzed one side of his body and impaired his speech.  Our first glimpse of Arthur is with him wearing a woman’s nightie and a rainbow colored Afro wig with his face painted as a circus clown.  Prior to I’s return, Arthur has been relegated to vegetate in front of a television and suffer Paige’s humiliating wrath in retaliation for his years of abusing her.  She doses him with estrogen to keep him docile.

Max (Jax Jackson) is Isaac’s younger sister who has started hormones and is transitioning to the male gender. He believes that the story of Noah’s arc is transphobic, and that Elizabeth I, Leonardo DaVinci, and Martha Washington were transexual.  He wants to join a “commune of anarchist queers”.

The characters have plenty to say, and important contemporary issues and attitudes are debated and explained.  The weakness of the play as a whole is that through the hilarity and the horror of the play, there is an absence of complications and suspense leading to the explosive, climactic scene.

Hir is performed at the Magic Theatre through February 23, Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd., Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94123, 415-441-8822,




Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.