From Georgetown’s Black Theatre Ensemble comes the hauntingly thought-provoking “Hookman.” Adapted from the show by playwright Lauren Yee, it follows Georgetown freshman Lexi, played by Carmen Livesay (COL ’17), as she learns what it means to grow up and face her inner demons.
Black Theatre Ensemble strives to produce works that provoke substantive dialogue and explore edgy, sensitive topics — “Hookman” is no exception. After being raped by an upperclassman boy, Lexi struggles to come to terms with what happened, instead allowing her fear and paranoia to paralyze her. Unfortunately, this fear has crippling consequences when it leads to car accident that kills her best friend Jesse, played by Katherine Pietro (COL ’17).
Following the incident, Lexi tries a variety of coping methods. She isolates herself from the people of her past and instead goes to more drastic measures to acclimate to the Georgetown culture, whether it be by drinking with her roommate or forcing conversation with an overachieving activist on her floor. Yet the more Lexi attempts to run from her dire circumstances, the more she realizes that she is most afraid of the thoughts inside her head.
“I was interested in how fear and anxiety manifest themselves in the mind,” student director Christina Ibarra (COL ’17) said. “Our T-shirts say, ‘The scariest things happen in your own mind,’ and I think that is a really good way of describing the play and a lot of the types of unhealthy mentalities we see at Georgetown sometimes.”
The effects of these unhealthy mentalities manifest themselves in the show’s characters. Lexi’s roommate Yoonji, played by Monica Yoon (COL ’20), falls victim to campus party culture while overachiever Chloe, played by Cristin Crowley (MSB ’20), succumbs to her desire to be perfect and better than everyone around her. Lexi’s rapist Sean and her Resident Assistant Adam, both played by Mark Camilli (COL ’19) represent the reality of rape culture present on college campuses across the country. Camilli also portrays Hookman, the ultimate manifestation of Lexi’s fear, paranoia and discomfort following her assault.
“Hookman embodies the trauma and guilt that Lexi faces. Ultimately, Hookman is created by Lexi. All of the people in Lexi’s life begin to embody Hookman and this is apparent through the repetition of lines and the transformation of the other male characters into Hookman,” Camilli said.
BTE’s clever use of light and sound echo the blurry distinctions between fantasy and reality. Eerie noises such as whistling wind or the scraping of metal are contrasted with classic ’90s pop hits by the Spice Girls and Cyndi Lauper. Sudden blackouts and flashing lights are juxtaposed with the warm lighting of Lexi’s dorm.
As a result, there are several moments during the show when the tension and suspense from the stage effects lead the audience to believe that something terrible is going to happen, only for comic relief to be provided instead. By the end of the show, the audience, like Lexi, has a hard time distinguishing between reality and its own internal fears.
The show couples an abundance of humor with the grave, but very real, issue of sexual assault, which the cast handles with great sensitivity.
“We brought in some [Sexual Assault Peer Educators] advisors to talk with the cast and the directing staff,” said student producer William Blanchette (COL ’19). “We felt it was important that everyone on stage understand what [sexual assault] means and also how to approach that subject matter safely for them and for the audience.”
To make sure that the audience leaves “Hookman” truly understanding the effects of sexual assault outside of the theater, Blanchette and Ibarra are welcoming members of the SAPE team to see the show for free each night and to table after the show.
“I hope for the survivors who are able to sit and watch the show, that they will see something that they might be able relate to in a way of also finding some strength in Lexi’s character,” Ibarra said.
Livesay, in her role as Lexi, shares Ibarra’s wish.
“I do hope that, for the people who relate to this part of Lexi’s story, it is reassuring to know that they aren’t alone, and their sexual assault is just as valid.”
Despite the multitude of gore and trauma, the show ends on an uplifting note with an empowering message.
“Lexi really gains a stronger sense of self throughout the show, and, as a result of that, she is able to gain more confidence and learn how to stand up for herself,” Livesay said. “She also learns how to stop avoiding the guilt and trauma, and by the end of the show she makes the decision to accept responsibility and deal with her grief.”
“Hookman” runs from March 31 to April 2 and April 6 to 8 in Village C Theater. Student tickets are $8 and general admission are $10. Tickets can be purchased at the Davis Performing Arts Center or online.