Z Below, 450 Florida Street, San Francisco
This review appeared in the Piedmont Post May 13, 2015
Billed as an “existential slasher comedy” Lauren Yee’s Hookman doesn’t quite confront the void, but it does a pretty good job of reflecting our current distracted and frenetic cultural moment. College freshman Lexi (well played by Taylor Jones) is having a very traumatic first year, and the action seems to exist within the confines of her psyche, though it is a little hard to tell how are we are intended to read the play’s reality. In the opening scene, Lexi and her friend Jess (Sarah Matthes, who also deserves a shout out) are in a car accident, and Jess is killed. Lexi returns to UConn, where her peers provide cold comfort at best. There she is menaced by a serial killer who may or may not be real—he attacks when Lexi is not present, suggesting he is real outside her mind, yet most indicators suggest he is a projection of her psyche. The play keeps returning to the car crash scene, which makes psychological sense in terms of trauma, but the changes in dialogue as the scene is revisited muddy, rather than clarify, the initial incident. To make matters muddier, it is revealed that Lexi has also experienced another trauma, which generates a repeated line about young women “asking for it”. In the end, Lexi does come to an understanding of what actually took place and confronts her role in her friend’s death. This does not sound like comedy, but the dialogue could be streaming live from dorm rooms across America, and the liberal use of fake blood aligns the play with slasher spoofs like the Scream movies. The audience clearly enjoyed the colloquial language, the visual joke about Skype, and the many references to the online reality that confuses the way we experience the present. The manic presence of Lexi’s fellow frosh Chloe, played by Aily Kei Roper, also elicited laughs. Roper clearly has a gift for physical comedy, but her energy might have been better channeled and contained. Like many slasher films and spoofs thereof, Hookman has an extra ending. This one features Chloe playing with fake blood and reminding us that the whole thing is a joke. Though it also garnered giggles, I felt that the ending diluted further an already murky piece. I applaud the playwright for attempting to address so many things at once and for in many ways providing an apt depiction of the confusions of late adolescence. The sets, lights, and sound ranged from the representative to the dream-like and framed the action well. But I can’t say that Hookman is entirely successful either as comedy or as drama. It raises heavy themes, yet shies away from treating them thoughtfully, and the humor arises from the characters’ cruelty to one another, which wears thin with repetition. Such relentlessness and absurdity are no doubt present in slasher and slasher-spoof films, but I would like to have had a direct experience of the world described by Hookman, rather than feeling that the joke is on me for wondering about its ultimate intentions.