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Arts & Culture

'Hooked' on Thrills

Theater Students to Premiere ‘Existential Slasher Comedy’

By Sala Levin ’10

actor from "Hookman" play

In "Hookman," debuting tomorrow at The Clarice, college freshman Lexi (Isabella Benning '22) is haunted both by the loss of her best friend and a hook-handed tormentor.

Photo by Jordan Resnick

What could be worse than mourning the loss of your best friend while navigating the awkward early weeks of college? How about the looming presence of a hook-handed serial killer?

Tomorrow, UMD’s School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies will bring to life “Hookman,” an ode to the now-vintage campy teen horror movies of the 1990s, like “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” The show, part of the university's Arts for All initiative highlighting intersections across the arts, science and technology, uses the latest equipment and design thanks to the Maya Brin Institute for New Performance.

Popular contemporary playwright Lauren Yee, who has called her work an “existential slasher comedy,” “deals with pretty weighty issues” like sexual assault on campus, grief and late-adolescent insecurities by “using the horror genre to turn all these issues on their head,” said Nathaniel Claridad ’04, director of “Hookman.”

It’s part of a long tradition of using horror as a manifestation of characters’ existing trauma—from the first wave of slasher films like “Halloween” up to the recent resurgence of horror with movies like “Midsommar” and “Get Out.”

“You can’t fully tell if this is actually happening to Lexi or if it’s in her head,” said Isabella Benning ’22, who plays the troubled main character. “She’s in denial, she’s trying to swallow it all and push it all down, and it’s bubbling up in a false reality, which then creates the horror of the show.”

To get into character, Benning created a playlist full of spooky music from the 1970s and 80s—like the acoustic version of the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”—and contemporary teenage bops like Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u.”

The cast also had a group movie night to watch “Scream,” Wes Craven’s 1996 movie about high school students terrorized by a killer on the loose. “We’re scared, but we kind of enjoy it,” Claridad said. “It’s not so off-putting like ‘The Exorcist’ can be.”

The play’s comedic elements helped Benning relate to her character. “She’s so awkward, I love her,” Benning said of Lexi. “She doesn’t really feel like she belongs there, but she really wants to feel like she belongs there.”

Claridad hopes the thrills and jokes will help audiences engage with more difficult issues. “I do hope, after having a good laugh and a good scare, they walk away and think about how to change campus life" across the country to improve women's safety.

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