So true it hurts: Hook UpReview
Tapestry Opera’s latest commission is a compact, intermission-free piece of organic theatre that has all the pieces in place. Hook Up is the work of composer Chris Thornborrow and librettist Julie Tepperman; in 90 minutes of music, singing, and drama that straddles the styles of opera and musical theatre, Hook Up tells the story of a young woman’s first few months as a new university student.
The confusion, the horrid feeling of not knowing - but kind of knowing - what happened during a blackout, the inadequate explanations to friends and boyfriends, it was all too true.
It’s all terrifyingly familiar. There’s Mindy, the girl who clutches at her high school posse - her boyfriend and her best friend - and whose homebody tendencies do nothing to prepare her for her first booze-filled night of partying. There’s Mindy’s best friend Cindy, who is overjoyed to be single for her freshman year, and who dives into her new social life with no fear. There’s Mindy’s boyfriend, Tyler, who’s torn between genuine affection for his girlfriend, and the freshman year opportunities to meet new people and go to new parties.
Hook Up is smartly executed in this world premiere production, directed by Richard Greenblatt. The specific story of Mindy, Cindy, and Tyler is put up against its broader themes. The young students arrive, unaware of the strong whiff of a sexually-charged environment. The men and women get advice from their orientation leaders that’s conspicuously different - the men are perfunctorily advised to behave themselves, and the women are imperfectly urged to watch their drinks at parties. Cindy and Mindy get into a petty fight during class, first in angry whispers, and then in emoji-speak, all while ignoring the ongoing lecture on Feminism 101.
Tepperman’s libretto is incredible, because it’s real. The characters spoke to each other the way I would have, and even within the historically conservative “opera world”, no one stopped Tepperman from writing in conversations about watching porn as a couple, anal sex, “rules” for one-night-stands, and sex on your period. Thornborrow’s music, performed by the simple ensemble of Music Director/pianist Jennifer Tung and percussionist Greg Harrison, creates a world for Tepperman’s words, never demanding undue spotlight, but certainly enhancing their delivery.
I spent the night growing more and more uncomfortable. I’m about ten years out of my university days, long enough to have forgotten a million tiny memories that Hook Up seemed hell-bent on digging up and shoving in my face. From the first scene, the piece is teeming with dramatic irony; we know exactly what’s going to happen to Mindy as she unveils her naïve expectations of parent-free domestic bliss with her comfort-blanket of a boyfriend.
The party scene put a pit in my stomach, as did everything that came after. The confusion, the horrid feeling of not knowing - but kind of knowing - what happened during a blackout, the inadequate explanations to friends and boyfriends, it was all too true. And I loved that nothing got “resolved”. For Mindy, who is hit hard by the events of that night, any sort of resolution is still off in the distance. The piece ends only days after the fated party, too soon to demand any sort of tying of loose ends. And even if the Hook Up creative team had opted for some sort of “proper ending”, it would have become too specific, maybe even to prescriptive, and certainly it would have taken away from the universality of this story.
I hope Hook Up gets picked up again, and soon. It’s hard to say if it will become part of the 21st-century operatic canon, simply because Thornborrow’s score demands singers who are thoroughly trained, both in the classical and music theatre styles. I’m not sure this cast - led by Emily Lukasik (Mindy), Alicia Ault (Cindy), and Nathan Carroll (Tyler) - really represents those who straddle both opera and music theatre, but it’s a moot point, since they were beautiful in their roles. Alexis Gordon and Jeff Lillico, both playing several roles, were actually the ones who brought the tears to my eyes; Gordon in her final scene with Lukasik, and Lillico as Mindy’s father, leaving his daughter a perfect voicemail.