Arts & Life, Fine & Performing Arts

Cal Rep production ‘Hookman’ is a clever and hopeful tale of life after tragedy

“Hookman” a California Repertory production by Lauren Yee, tackles death, sexual violence and grief under the bright stage lights as the smart, slightly naive 17-year-old Lexi, played by Madecyn Penn, learns to take responsibility. 

The play, which is showing until Oct. 6 at the CSULB Studio Theater, opens with Lexi gleefully sharing the tale of Hookman, a man with a hand for a hook who preys on women, to best friend Jess, played by Aubree Bibbs. 

Tragedy strikes soon after, resulting in Jess’ death, which forces Lexi to confront not only what happened to her friend, but a painful experience of her own. 

Despite being described as a slasher-comedy, “Hookman” focuses less on its titular character and his supposed kills, and more on Lexi’s relationship with Jess, the men in her life and her maturity. 

Lexi’s confidence in her conviction to save people is humorously contrasted by the other characters’ disinterest. Lexi’s distracted roommate Yoonji, played by KL, is shown to be more concerned with social media than Jess’ death. 

Penn shines as Lexi, embracing her role wholeheartedly as she dances around on stage, snacking on Yoonji’s Korean chips and crying out in frustration as her efforts to thwart Hookman and honor Jess are repeatedly dismissed. 

Another noteworthy performance was Noelle Howe as Chloe, a student activist, whose false sincerity and exaggerated personality manages to be equally charming and conniving. This is especially apparent when the play ends with her fanatic laughter about death, followed with a “yup.”

Hookman parallels the act of sexual violence, preying on women throughout the performance as his hooked hand swipes at air while women continue on frighteningly unaware of their close call. 

But when he strikes, the questions start to pile up. 

“She had it coming,” and “What was she wearing?” feel laughable within the parameters of the performance, but is entirely sobering when this is the reality of many women who experience sexual violence. 

Despite the heavy themes, “Hookman” is self-aware and smartly dims lights for melodramatic moments within conversations while characters interact with the audience for comedy. 

Yee’s writing lands as she creates realistic banter between best friends, an awkward break up focused more on saving face than sincerity and a distant roommate that feels familiar to anyone in college. 

Though “Hookman” grabs the audience by the throat, its fresh take on death, violence and responsibility reminds us that our own scars are capable of healing.

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