Hook Up, a world premiere opera commissioned by Tapestry Opera was like taking a walk down the memory lane of about 20 years, the good, the bad and the ugly. Three high school friends are excited to embark on the journey towards adulthood that is first year University. They soon realize that being away from home for the first time is a lot more complicated than parties and sexual exploration.
Sexual violence as a sensationalistic plot device is a trope in classical opera. Hook Up turns this misogynistic convention on its ear by explicitly deconstructing rape culture, making sexual violence the central theme rather than a juicy plot point.
Given the dramatic requirements of this intense, 90 minute piece, Tapestry Opera departs somewhat from its usual casting practices. Operas are by and large cast by people who have been extensively trained in classical technique and Tapestry is usually no exception. This work is cast with several performers who use vocal techniques from musical theatre. This choice is all the more interesting because compositionally and structurally this piece is very much an opera.
I was surprised by some of the singing at first, but the whole thing worked dramatically and vocally. The libretto by Dora-nominee Julie Tepperman felt like a natural conversation between Xennials and Millennials. It didn’t really feel like I was listening to a libretto, but rather the dialog in a coming of age movie, sung. I was focused on the very familiar story of redefining friendships and sexuality in early adulthood the entire time.
The set design by Kelly Wolf is another key success of this production. There is a traditional well-furnished single dorm room set centre stage. Different levels are created by using the balcony space at Theatre Passe Muraille. There is also projection, used to show text conversations, and scenes of campus life.
Here unfolds the story of Mindy, Tyler and Cindy. Mindy and Tyler have been going steady for two years and are excited about not having to sneak around for the first time. Mindy and Cindy are BFFs with very different personalities. Mindy is an introverted homebody, content to spend every night at home snuggled up with good-guy boyfriend Tyler doing very sexually repressed things in bed. Cindy on the other hand embraces the party and social scenes of campus life, revelling in the free will of adulthood. As they struggle to find themselves and new common ground, a perfect storm of Mindy’s insecurities and hang-ups, toxic masculinity and the normalization of campus rape culture converge to make a first-year girl’s worst nightmare come true.
Delivery was emotionally dynamic and intuitive throughout. There are a number of hilarious scenes and conversations and some really dark stuff as well. This show did an amazing job of weaving together the talents of a five member cast of incredible young performers, spectacular singer and actors all. Emily Lukasik did an outstanding job of keeping her light sweet soprano voice in keeping with Mindy’s straight-laced persona, but demonstrated she could let it all hang out vocally and physically during her drunk scene.
Alicia Ault on the other hand brings a much broader, textured timber to her performance as free-spirited, sexually liberated Cindy. She, Ms. Lukasik, and Alexis Gordon as the Feminism 101 professor share one of the most hilarious and complicated moments in the opera wherein Ms. Gordon’s lecture is punctuated with replies, asides, and barbs from Cindy and Mindy that lay bare the tensions of their changing values and priorities. Ms. Gordon’s rich, velvety voice was also stunning in the role of Tyler’s new friend Heather, who brings all of Mindy’s insecurities to the surface. The closing scene where the two women forge an unexpected bond is beautiful, gut-wrenching and absolutely riveting. It left a distinct lump in my throat.
Nathan Carroll did a superb job of portraying the complex, softer side of toxic masculinity. His warm, round and very sugary tenor is perfect for the role of boy-next-door Tyler. He also did an outstanding job of injecting significant bitter to the sweet during his explosive and painful to watch outburst during the show’s climax.
Jeff Lillico was charming and loveable as kindly, corny Dad to Mindy and I thoroughly enjoyed his heartfelt sung voice message to a much beloved Mindy who is currently isolating herself.
The score by composer Chris Thornborrow seamlessly combined a mix of acoustic instruments (Jennifer Tung, Musical Direction, Piano; Greg Harrison, Percussionist) and electronic sounds, occasionally placing a popular rhythmic overlay on modern classical composition.
Definitely a triumph aesthetically and thematically. If you don’t get #metoo after seeing this show, I don’t know what will drive it home. Definitely see this and get others to see it too.
- Hook Up is playing until February 9, 2019 at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave, Toronto, Ontario).
- Showtimes are 7:30 PM on January 30-31, February 1-3, February 5 (relaxed performance), February 6-9 with an additional audio described performance at 2:00 PM on February 9.
- Ticket prices range from $25-55 (Adults: $38, Senior: $33, Under 30/Arts Worker: $25, VIP: $55). There is also a $2.50/ticket booking fee and 13% HST.
- Tickets are available online, or by phone at 416-504-7529.
Photo of Alicia Ault and Emily Lukasik by Dahlia Katz.