Hook Up is a 95 minute musical theatre piece from composer Chris Thornborrow and librettist Julie Tepperman. It’s been a while coming. I saw the first inklings of it at Tapestry Briefs in September 2013. That morphed into Selfie seen in workshop in October 2015. Now it’s morphed again. The basic characters are still there and some of the plot elements but the focus has shifted from cyber-bullying to sexual consent and the context from high school to first year university.
So what we have now is a plot that has “good girl” Mindy (Emily Lukasic) in a monogamous relationship with long time boyfriend Tyler (Nathan Carroll) looking forward to the privacy of a single room away from home. “Party girl” Cindy (Alicia Ault) eventually persuades her to take a break from Tyler and do some partying. Things go horribly wrong. She gets very drunk and wakes up in a strange bed, in a strange building, next to someone she doesn’t recognise. Remorse and shame follow and she goes into withdrawal until “rescued” by Heather (Alexis Gordon), a rape victim, who feels very much like a deus ex machina. One very realistic touch, the university’s rape crisis hotline keeps office hours! There are other deft touches along the way like Mindy’s trying-desperately-to-not-be-overprotective parents (Alexis and Jeff Lillico) and the first three quarters of the work is funny. Then it goes into a very dark place and I’m not sure that really resolves.
It’s skilfully staged using a two level set that makes good use of the space with a rotating “bedroom module” on the lower level. Director Richard Greenblatt keeps things moving along briskly. The writing is quite tight and I think Tepperman captures the way contemporary young people talk (in so far as I have any clue about that). Thornborrow’s through composed score is atmospheric and singable, and it gets very competent treatment from Jenn Tung on piano and Greg Harrison on percussion, but there aren’t any show stopping numbers that you are going to go home humming. I think it was a smart move to use young musical theatre singers (miked) rather than heavier operatic voices. Everybody acts convincingly. So most of the elements of a good show are in place.
So why, at the end, was I asking myself what the point of it all was? Part of the problem is that Lanark University and the life of its new undergraduates is completely outside my experience. It bears about as much resemblance to my university days (or for that matter my son’s) as it does to life at Plato’s Academy. Some of the ideas seem still to be rooted in the more homogeneous world of high school and don’t seem to make much sense in the (in my experience) quite compartmentalized university world. So is this a realistic piece? Is it supposed to be? I don’t know?
Similarly who is it for and to what end? Is it supposed to be didactic? (It is). And so is it really intended as a cautionary tale to be shown to first year students or is it supposed to be educating “us” that “rape is bad”. I think I knew that. So at the end of the day I can see technical skill but I’m basically unmoved. Your mileage may differ.
Hook Up continues at Theatre Passe Muraille until February 9th.
Photo credits: Dahlia Katz.