I already shared my initial impressions after seeing ‘Hookman’ at Company one. But here’s my response paper for it, it contains more articulated thoughts.
Hookman, by Lauren Yee, was not what I expected. Then again, I don’t know how I could ever have expected the originality and poignancy mixed with horror/dark comedy that is Hookman. Common themes in Lauren Yee’s body of work include Young people going on a journey, often in pairs, and trying to discover the truth of what has happened in the past. Both of these elements are present in Hookman. Yee also tends towards a blurring of reality in her work. Yee says in an interview with Ilana Brownstein in the program notes, “ I think all my plays tend to dramatize and make funny something that is inherently unfunny”.
Within the first few seconds of the play, the set and the language immediately engaged me. The set featured a car on a revolving floor, the other side of which is a dorm room. Already we can gather that the play is about a journey. The car is a liminal space, but it is part of Lexi’s ‘home’ world. The dorm room is part of her college life, across the country from her home. Homesickness is a large part of Lexi’s struggle to find peace in her new reality; that of being a freshman in college. Through the set, we are also set up for the bloodiness that ensues, as the edge of the playing space is covered with thick blood.
The play feels incredibly contemporary and this is largely due to the music and language used in the piece. Loud music is playing and for about the first 30 seconds of the play, we see Lexi and Jess sing along to a song, creating a fun, friendly mood. I was immediately drawn in as an audience member and indeed I felt the urge to sing along! Their banter is specific and establishes their relationship very quickly. The opening scene feels like that of a comedy or chick flick; a funny scene between friends until, suddenly Lexi coughs out casually that she may have been raped last week. I thought that I had misheard this line at first. My friend who I saw the show with poked me hard when he heard this, and I had a similar feeling of “what?!”. This odd, disconnected atmosphere of horror/tragedy layered beneath humor and the mundane moments of everyday life is the world in which the play lives.
Repetition and revision is a tool that Yee employs throughout the play. We see the car scene several times throughout until the objective truth of what actually happened in the car is revealed. Each time we see it there is a slight change. Lexi is reliving the scene over and over as it is a source of trauma in her life. When the scene first happened she was not fully present, which led to her crashing the car. Jess says in the first scene “You never listen” Lexi retorts, “Yes I do!” In a later repetition Jess says “You never listen” and Lexi replies “I guess I don’t, do I?” She even apologizes for it as she realizes the truth of her statement.
Hookman the character appears throughout the play. In the first car scene he kills Jess, in the last car scene we come to understand that it was Lexi who crashed the car, killing Jess. This is very telling; Hookman lives within Lexi. He is her own projection of fear. He comes from an urban legend told to her by her brother. He is clearly of the city, created by people, told to her by a man close to her. Every man she sees throughout the play is revealed as Hookman, even her RA who she goes to for comfort. Her own fear prevents her from trusting or having relationships with men in her life. But where did this fear come from? Lexi has many reasons to be afraid, one is that she was raped; another is that girls around her keep dying. She is afraid of death. Because of her fear of death she ends up killing her best friend. This fear of death is clearly prevalent in Lexi’s (our) culture, as hookman is an urban legend, she doesn’t make him up entirely.
Because of her fear, Lexi is an unreliable narrator. The structure of the play shows that as we vacillate from past to present. Even when in the present we cannot be sure what is really happening. Yee takes seemingly mundane moments such as asking for a tissue and turns them into horrific, meaningful interactions. Yee says in the program notes of ‘mundane moments’, “I find them really potent. So, I’m taking something that is inherently undramatic and trying to make it dramatic.” Reality is often repeated in a different style, or else grows from naturalistic to exaggerated, often to grotesque and menacing. It is interesting to think that if exaggerated enough, reality can become terrifying. Or perhaps it is rather saying that we can project fear and danger into any and all circumstances.
Hookman also explores how fascinated we are as a culture with violence and fear. Urban Myths are abundant. What role do they serve in our society? Regardless, we often secretly enjoy watching horribly violent things happen. Also, the role of modern social media in dispersing news of violent incidents or tragedy is explored. Yee says in the program notes in talking about someone she knew peripherally who died,
“ I found out by people’s odd comments posted on her facebook profile…I remember feeling like I deserved to know how she died, because it wasn’t actually revealed. I found that kind of disturbing because why should I need to know at all? It really wasn’t any of my business, even though I felt like it was.”
Indeed throughout the play everyone seems to be all up in each other’s business, publicizing private events in a disturbing way, but in a way that rings very true to modern social trends.
Lexi gets stuck in cycles; her traumas haunt her and create new traumas. It is a cycle that cannot be broken until she faces her fear head on. I was not sure what exactly hookman represented until the final scene of the play. In the final scene, which is also the last revision of the car scene, Lexi realizes that it was she who crashed the car. It was her fault, not hookman’s. This realization makes the scene end differently than it has before. Jess hugs her and is able to leave without Lexi having to re-live the car crash. Hookman appears and she tells him that she knows that she will die. This facing of the facts allows her to face him. They fight. He ‘kills’ her but she is still ok, she rises again. It is her admission of her own vulnerability that giver her strength. Facing her fear head on makes him disappear.
Hookman, while engaging, was a little confusing. It took me a while to piece together what was happening. However, it did affect me viscerally and emotionally even when I was not sure what was happening plot-wise. I think that it accomplished this because of its use of humor and horror side by side. I felt uncomfortable yet engaged, and I felt that I could absolutely relate to Lexi. Though I have never been raped, I have had unwanted sexual encounters, and statistically so have the majority of women in America. This play discussed the violence of rape and sexual violence and how it can transform a person into becoming their own enemy. I think this play is incredibly important because it addresses serious issues in a way that is at the same time accessible, humorous, and deeply disturbing. The horrific scenes show the antagonists in the play, not only rape, but also death, homesickness, and loneliness, for the devastating and violent things that they really can be. And it explores how in the end, we can be our own worst antagonist, creating enemies in our minds wherever we go.