Review: HOOKED

by Lynn on April 22, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Carolyn Smart
Adapted by and Starring Nicky Guadagni
Directed by Layne Coleman
Lighting by Rebecca Picherack
Original Music by Victoria Carr

A beautifully rendered performance by Nicky Guadagni illuminating the lives of seven notable women who were hooked on sex, drugs, alcohol, Hitler, men, love, lust, murder, and art.

Hooked is based on the book of seven poems, also entitled Hooked, by Carolyn Smart. In these vivid poems Smart reveals the lives of seven extraordinary women. Myra Hindley committed the “Moors Murders in which she and her partner Ian Brady killed at least five children.

Unity Mitford was one of the celebrated Mitford girls, who lived a life of privilege and recklessness in England. Unity took a trip to Germany and became besotted with Hitler and thought everything he did was swell. When England declared war on Germany the disappointment was too much for her. She shot herself in the head, and lived.

Zelda Fitzgerald was a novelist, dancer and artist who was married to F. Scott Fitzgerald. They drank hard. Lived hard and as Zelda said, “We were spoiled children.”

Dora Carrington was a British painter and was a member of the Bloomsbury Group. She loved Lytton Strachey who was much older than she was and gay. “I love Lytton Strachey for all time/No matter he’s a sodomite.”

Elizabeth Smart (no relation to Carolyn Smart) was from Ottawa, a place she hated. She became besotted with British poet George Barker and pursued him relentlessly in spite of his being married. He promised to leave his wife but never did. Smart and Barker had a long affair and had four children.

Carson McCullers wrote of loneliness and outcasts (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and The Member of the Wedding). And she drank heavily.

Jane Bowles was called “the most underrated writer of fiction in American literature” by Tennessee Williams. She was married to Paul Bowles, the composer and writer. She preferred women. She tried to live up to Williams’ opinion of her: “Good writing is like guilt/But I cannot find that way again/So cook and serve and drink and make them laugh.”

These seven women lived lives addicted to, or ‘hooked on, drugs, drink, unsuitable men, love, sex, lust, murder and art.

Nicky Guadagni has adapted Carolyn Smart’s poems about these seven women and created the one-person play Hooked in which she also stars.

While one might look at these women and see a misguided life, misplaced obsession, a blinding need for destruction, none of these women, as performed or presented, is a victim. They either know what they are doing and don’t care about the consequences, or are so driven by their obsession they aren’t aware of any consequences. As one self-aware character says, her life was filled with “alcohol and angst”.

Elizabeth Smart pursued George Barker because she fell in love with his poems. They had a volatile affair. She had several children she had to raise herself. She didn’t’ care. She wanted him. She wrote about it in her novella By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept.

In their own way, each woman was driven and focused on what they wanted and nothing got in the way. Even misguided Unity Mitford is fascinating in her adoration of Hitler, going even so far as to be aware of the total number of times they met (144).

In Nicky Guadagni’s sensitive playing of each woman and Layne Colman’s equally thoughtful direction, you never get the sense that they are passing judgement on any character. Each character is introduced without fanfare, a lighting change, or marked ‘ceremony’ to note a new character. Guadagni just pauses slightly after one character and then moves to another, perhaps with a new accent or timbre of voice. The transitions are graceful and clear. We are never in doubt that a new character has been introduced.

Myra Hindley, the most hated woman in British History is matter of fact, hard, unrepentant and even funny. One church refused to hold her funeral and cremate her.

Unity is wide-eyed and devoted to every memory of Hitler. She is impish when talking about her family and their endless uses of nicknames for all of them. There is a kind of childlike quality to Unity which is not hard to imagine when considering that idiosyncratic family.

Guadagni brings out the inner life of these remarkable women with finesse, nuance and committed respect. She appears barefoot in a black slip, prowling the bare stage except for a chair. She might scamper up the side stairs and around to the section that looks down on the stage, but the staging always serves the piece and is never distracting.

While the text sometimes does not say who the character is that is being presented, there are clues in the telling. And the program lists the seven women with a bit of information as well as a quote from text.

Hooked has been developed, performed, and perfected over the last several years. This beautiful production is the result. To quote the wise words of Artistic Director, Andy McKim, Hooked is “an occasion worth celebrating.”

Theatre Passe Muraille Presents:

Run: April 16-May 10, 2015
Cast: 1 gifted actress
Running Time: 70 minutes

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1 T Taitt April 25, 2015 at 5:49 pm

If Nicky Guadagni is not nominated for a Dora, there is no justice. That performance is scintillating.