Hook Up adds lots of fascinating notes to the topic of sex and consent

Chris Thornborrow and Julie Tepperman's opera/musical theatre hybrid confronts campus rape culture with urgency and artistry


HOOK UP by Chris Thornborrow and Julie Tepperman (Tapestry Opera in partnership with Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson). Runs to February 9. $25-$55. tapestryopera.com. See listing. Rating: NNNN


Many shows have taken on the timely topic of sex, consent and rape culture on college campuses, but few have mined it with as much depth and sensitivity as Hook Up, a new opera/musical theatre hybrid by Tapestry Opera, in partnership with Theatre Passe Muraille

With a score by Chris Thornborrow and libretto by Julie Tepperman, the completely sung-through show is set at the fictional Lanark University, where Mindy (Emily Lukasik), boyfriend Tyler (Nathan Carroll) and bestie Cindy (Alicia Ault) are freshmen. 

The Canadian campus’s dysfunctional milieu is established quickly and efficiently in a funny but telling scene in which group leaders (Alexis Gordon and Jeff Lillico, who play various roles throughout) provide very different lessons to their female and male charges.

Meanwhile, Thornborrow and Tepperman take time carefully constructing the characters. Mindy wants to settle down with Tyler, who seems more interested in playing video games and basketball with his bros. And Cindy, ignored by Mindy, has been experimenting with sexual freedom – always safely, of course – and has found some new friends. 

One of the strongest scenes – both musically and dramatically – is set at a lecture in which the prof (Gordon) delivers an overview of the history of feminism while the two women, in a catty counterpart, argue over their disintegrating friendship. 

The way the plot develops – including the appearance of another character at the 11th hour – is surprising but satisfying. 

Director Richard Greenblatt makes brilliant use of every inch of the TPM space, including the second floor landings and various seats in the audience. Kelly Wolf’s revolving set evokes everything from Mindy’s cozy dorm room to a sleazy frat house Halloween party. Monty Martin’s video projections are used sparingly but effectively, with the most creative and intelligent use of text-messaging and emoticons I’ve seen in a stage show. 

Thornborrow’s urgent and characterful score matches the work’s various moods, while Tepperman’s libretto, from its moments of high drama to its pregnant silences, is masterful. 

Gordon and Lillico do lots of fine work filling out the supporting characters. Lukasik’s beguiling, layered performance makes Mindy believably contradictory and complex, while the sweet-toned Carroll makes his Tyler intentionally hard to read. And Ault’s emotionally direct acting and singing make every moment count. 

While the ending feels abrupt, you could argue that the characters’ stories will continue, as all great art should, beyond the confines of the theatre.

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