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Hookman has Brandeis hooked

The Brandeis Undergraduate Theater Collective’s production of Lauren Yee’s “Hookman” is an excellent exploration of the human psyche through the guise of a slasher flick. This production, directed by Karina Wen ’20, seamlessly blends elements of horror and dark comedy to create a truly unique existential experience.
The story follows college freshman Lexi, played by Sofia Seufert ’22, as she seeks to find and face the truth about the death of her best friend Jess, played by Casey Bachman ’21, while escaping the grasp of a serial killer with a hook for a hand. As Lexi continues to seek the truth, the play gradually evolves from a comedic take on slasher films to a psychological thriller and coming of age story. Over the course of this transition, the seventeen-year-old Lexi comes to terms with not only herself but also the titular hookman.

What makes this production truly unique is the fantastic dialogue between the characters. The dialogue seems to be ripped straight out of some Hollywood B movie. The way Lexi talks is so stereotypically valley girl, that it feels as if you are watching a live-action slasher film. Yet this does not detract from her performance and instead makes Lexi’s interaction with Jess feel more authentic.

The other members of the cast seem to emulate different stock characters of horrors films too. Some stand-out performances include Seth Wulf ’21, who expertly portrays three different stock characters as Sean, the distant boyfriend, Adam, the stoner RA, and Kayleigh, a scared nerd type. Wulf transitions effortlessly between these three characters, making each one unique and hilarious in different ways. Another great performance was given by Hannah Novack ’22, who portrayed the annoying and at times morbid student Chloe. Novack portrays Chloe as shrill and unapologetically blunt, creating a character that is hilarious without becoming unbearably annoying. The stock characters that make up the cast combined with the cringeworthy yet funny dialogue lends a sense of familiarity to the production that can connect the audience to its characters in order to better enhance the existentialism later on in the play.

The production does not rely too heavily on comic relief and fully explores the darker elements of the plot without becoming overly gory or risque. The production tackles many darker subjects like violence, sexual assault and guilt. Yet none of these subjects are discussed in poor taste. Instead of merely being a morality play, “Hookman” fully explores each of these darker themes, and each one directly impacts Lexi’s journey.
While the play is a darkly comedic take of slasher films, it handles the extreme violence common to that genre in fascinating ways. Blood and gore is often represented by red lipstick and the attacks of the titular Hookman are shown as dances rather than violent assaults. When the titular Hookman, portrayed by Daniel Souza ’19, attacks Lexi’s roommate, Yoonji, portrayed by Ashley Kim ’20 and cuts off her face, we don’t get a gory, blood-filled scene. Instead, Hookman assaults his victim through a macabre dance that ends with Yoonji applying lipstick around her face to represent the attack. This statement differentiated the play from your typical shock value slasher film and added a more existential and symbolic representation of violence.

The existential elements of Lexi’s journey are supported by excellent sound design by Talia Loeb ’21. The great sound effects such as the metallic slashing that ends every scene heightens the tension as the play builds to a climax. In addition to the slashing, each transition is accompanied by songs ranging from dubstep to The Beatles. These songs are also played during Hookman’s attacks. The attack scenes involve no dialogue at all and instead rely on the music and macabre choreography to convey meaning. The tense atmosphere of these scenes are enhanced by the expert lighting design by Noah Mark ’19. What results from the combination of lights, sounds and movement are scenes that become manifestations of Lexi’s inner guilt.

The phenomenal performances by the cast as well as excellent work from the crew truly creates a production that is comedic but still explores darker themes. The show is more than a simple comedic take on slasher films; it is an existential look into how humans deal with loss and guilt.

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