Chicago Theatre Review
A Slasher Film Comes to Life
Hookman – Steep Theatre
Using a movie genre that primarily appeals to young men, playwright Lauren Yee (whose work is also currently represented in Chicago at the Goodman Theatre) has crafted a cleverly bizarre, female-driven 75-minute one-act that focuses on the lives of four young women and one scary dude sporting a hook. Yee’s taken one of those crazy, spine-tingling urban myths, the kind everyone loves to tell around a campfire, and spun it out of control. The result is a contemporary, surreal mashup of Grand Guignol theatrics and slasher film sensationalism.
Lexi is a University of Connecticut freshman, back home in California for the holidays, and cruising around town with her best friend, Jess. While enjoying the spoils of their late-night raid at a favorite burger joint, the girls share stories of their individual teen exploits since last seeing each other. This includes texting, discussing social media, potential love interests and Lexi’s own frustration with her mother, who’s constantly calling and texting, reminding her to be safe. Lexi’s mom is particularly fixated on the urban legend of the Hookman, a deranged guy with a sharp, metal crook for a hand. He’s said to be stalking the city, mutilating unsuspecting young girls at night. Suddenly, in the middle of this sedate scene, a tragedy occurs…or does it? Suffice it to say, without spoiling the surprises, that all kinds of strange events begin to transpire. The play turns into a slasher story on repeat, a story whose events are told and retold with varying outcomes.
There’s much humor, lots of contemporary talk, several unexpected scares and buckets of blood in this play. Director Vanessa Stalling has cleverly melded her live-action production with plenty of tongue-in-cheek pulp fiction video, stylishly created by Mark Comiskey. Jeffrey Levin heightens the play’s suspense with his frightening, spot-on sound design and original musical composition. Arnel Sancianco’s fluid scenic design allows the episodic story to seamlessly flow from reality to fantasy and back again. Ms. Stalling guides her six actors with precision and sensitivity, keeping this ambiguous cartoon in constant motion and smartly balancing the play’s shock value with life lessons about female relationships, independence, distracted driving and trust.
The cast is very good, beginning with Kiayla Ryann as Lexi, the confused Millennial Alice who finds herself tumbling down a rabbit hole of curious, repetitious events. Aja Wiltshire is perfect in her portrayal of Yoonji, Lexi’s bubble-headed roommate, who’s so self-involved she can barely carry on a conversation with anyone else. Karen Isabel Rodriguez creates a believable character in Jess, Lexi’s California BFF, a girl whose inability to concentrate on one subject for longer than two sentences is very realistic. Sasha Smith is a vacuous coed named Chloe. She shows up periodically to torment Lexi, while urging her to sign some petition or other.
Lauren Yee’s comic, pulp fiction mashup of theatre and film is as much fun as it is perplexing. It pays homage to the slasher movie genre while offering audiences a large dose of girl power. This play would make a terrific Halloween offering for any regional theatre, while providing a quartet of talented young actresses with some meaty roles to chew on. This gory, gag-filled riff on a popular urban legend/scary campfire story is grisly, grim and gruesome. It may also have skittish theatergoers asking, as they drive home afterwards, “What’s that scraping sound on roof of my car?”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 20-May 27 by Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-649-3186 or by going to www.steeptheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.