Nicky Guadagni is riveting as seven fascinating women addicted to something – or someone.
HOOKED by Carolyn Smart, adapted by Nicky Guadagni (Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson). Runs to May 10. $17-$33, mat pwyc. 416-504-7529. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Even if you think you’ve seen one solo show too many, make time for Hooked, Nicky Guadagni’s absorbing look at seven obsessed women addicted to something – or someone.
Adapted by Guadagni from Carolyn Smart’s book of poems, the show has a structure that couldn’t be simpler.
Dressed in a black dress in bare feet, Guadagni completely inhabits these fascinating creatures, beginning with the loathsome British serial killer Myra Hindley – dubbed the Karla Homolka of her day – and ending with the vivacious, bisexual writer Jane Bowles.
In between there are sharp poetic portraits of Zelda Fitzgerald, Carson McCullers, Elizabeth Smart, Dora Carrington and Unity Mitford. If, like me, you don’t know that last woman, she was part of the famous, eclectic Mitford family and became obsessed with the Third Reich, stalking Hitler.
Yes, these are women on the verge of, or recovering from, a nervous breakdown, their lives distilled by Smart into 10 minutes of wonderful writing and captured in all their essence by Guadagni.
Fitzgerald is sensual and glamorous, her head bobbing restlessly, her body always ready to dance. The androgynous Carrington, tragically in love with the gay Lytton Strachey, is heartbreaking. And the Canadian Smart, whose grand passion was chronicled in her book By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept, gets to open her segment with, “My God! The hell of Ottawa!”
There’s likely no moment as powerful as when this same woman, slouching and crumpled on the floor while grieving the death of her daughter, morphs into Carson McCullers, girlishly recounting how alcohol makes her less shy.
As a theatre critic, I get to see lots of great performances, but what Guadagni does is astonishing, quickly and efficiently embodying each woman, not through tricks but with a focus and internal re-calibration that fixes each woman in time and space.
Rebecca Picherack’s lighting and original music by Victoria Carr help change the moods, and director Layne Coleman has staged the piece so that the small Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace becomes seven different venues.
One scene involving a wall becomes so suggestive you’ll swear Guadagni is acting with someone else.
The ending feels abrupt, but that’s a fault of the text, not the production. Once you see what Guadagni and Coleman do with this material, you’ll be Hooked.