Nicky Guadagni plays seven different women in this one woman show in Toronto
The full house of Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace was in great company Tuesday night for the premiere of Hooked. Based on poems by Carolyn Smart, Hooked delves into the lives of seven powerful women, including Myra Hindley, Unity Mitford, Zelda Fitzgerald, Dora Carrington, Elizabeth Smart, Carson McCullers and Jane Bowles, telling their stories from glorious, glamorous beginning to (often enough) unfortunate disappointing demise. These seven women, each carrying their own historical heft, were all gallantly played by one: Nicky Guadagni.
It’s a big burden for one actor to carry, but Guadagni does so with gumption and a mesmerizing stage presence that drew me in as soon as she stepped into the spotlight. Between the awed silence and bursts of laughter, it was obvious that I wasn’t the only one thoroughly enjoying getting well-acquainted with the production’s characters.
I was most impressed with how Guadagni transitioned so completely between each character. From her accent and line delivery, to her body movement and the way she built in pauses, every personality was distinct and each shift was subtle, yet still very much tangible.
The production itself was conceptualized through small, in-home performances, which Guadagni continues to perform in an interesting version of the show called “Hooked in House.” This alternate variation brings the play right into a party host’s salon, and includes a catered meal. It feels almost strange to admit this, as the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace is a fairly intimate venue, but I felt as though it might’ve been a little too large for the performance. I do think something gets lost in the performance.
I also wasn’t particularly impressed with the lighting. A lot of the character shifts took place in either low lighting or during brief blackouts, which felt unnecessary. I found it a bit heavy-handed at times, and would have much preferred simpler transitions in the lighting, or even just a follow spot. I think the magic of this piece is in how Guadagni changes from one woman to the next, and being able to watch her change is an integral part of the experience.
One of my favourite aspects of the piece, besides Guadagni, was live musical accompaniment provided by Victoria Carr. The instrumentals worked in tandem with each characters delivery, punctuating the text in an understated, though especially effective way. I didn’t even realize that Carr was playing live until further into the show, as I didn’t have too much time to peruse the program beforehand.
If you’re a fan of any of the historical ladies involved, you’ll definitely want to check this one out. In the event that you aren’t as well-versed in the women featured in the performance, I’d recommend reading the small blurbs about them in the program before the show begins. I realize one person shows aren’t for everyone, but I think Hooked dazzles enough to get even those nay-sayers to reconsider.
- Hooked plays until May 10, 2015 at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson)
- Shows run Wednesday – Saturday at 7:30 pm and Saturday-Sunday matinees at 2 pm
- Tickets are $28-$33
- Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online
Photo of Nicky Guadagni by Michael Cooper.