Steep Theatre Presents HOOKMAN Review – Existential Slasher Comedy Full of Surprises

James Doherty and Kiayla Ryann (l to r) in HOOKMAN at Steep Theatre. Photo by Lee Miller.

Urban Legend and Existential Terror

Hookman may be one of the strangest plays to grace Chicago's stages this year. Written by Lauren Yee and billed as an "existential slasher comedy," this genre bending play jams one part drama, one part coming-of-age story, one part horror, and one part comedy into its 70-minute running time. The result is a dizzying and at times uneven, but thoroughly enjoyable play addressing such topics as the safety of young women, date rape, and survivor’s guilt.

Hookman tells the story of Lexi (Kiayla Ryan), a freshman in college home for break, who begins to be haunted by the sinister “Hookman” after a tragic accident involving her close friend, Jess (Karen Isabel Rodriguez). As Lexi tries to move on from tragedy, she also seeks comfort from several absurd interactions with her roommate, Yoonji (Aja Wiltshire), boyfriend, Sean (James Doherty), and Chloe (Sasha Smith), an over-zealous girl living on her floor.

Kiayla Ryann and Aja Wiltshire (l to r) in HOOKMAN at Steep Theatre. Photo by Lee Miller.
Kiayla Ryann in HOOKMAN at Steep Theatre. Photo by Lee Miller.

Acting Grounds the Action

A lot happens in Hookman, and, even with a game cast such as the one director Vanessa Stalling has assembled, it can be easy to feel a little confused. That said, the ensemble in this production does an admirable job of grounding the action, even as Yee’s script asks for some lines of dialogue to be repeated and refracted throughout the play to strange effect. While some characterizations seem to be begging to be played as archetypes, Karen Isabel Rodriguez and Aja Wiltshire bring a solid amount of depth to their respective roles as best friend and weird roommate. In the leading role, Ryann, too, creates a three-dimensional character, undergoing a believable transformation as the play’s “female victim hero” who must come to terms with more emotional baggage than the traditional “final girls” of horror.

Hookman Set Full of Surprises

Mimicking the play’s seemingly realistic setup is Arnel Sanciano’s scenic design. Most of Hookman takes place in Lexi and Yoonji’s college dorm room, which is picture perfect. Colorful and full of details--from fridge magnets to vibrant bedding and a class schedule pinned to a bulletin board--Sanciano has created a set that, on the surface, feels normal; as traditional a setting for a horror film as it is a coming-of-age teen drama. But, just like Yee’s play, Sanciano’s set is full of twists and surprises. The interior of a car glides on and off stage for some scenes, Pete Dully’s lighting design bathes the set in eerie and ethereal washes of color, and--without giving too much away--the mini fridge in the corner is not all that it seems.

One aspect that Hookman consistently gets right is establishing and embracing its horror-milieu. Two televisions are mounted to the left and right of the stage, displaying a variety of cinematic horror scenes throughout the course of the production. After a car accident in the opening scene, Jeffrey Levin’s sound design fills Steep’s intimate space with the pulsating bass and synthesizers characteristic of 1980s slasher films. The television screens offer horror movie style opening credits, complete with dripping red blood and title cards displaying the cast and production team. Such elements of design embrace the strengths of theatre and cinema, illustrating a strong approach to staging horror in an engaging way.

Karen Isabel Rodriguez and Kiayla Ryann (l to r) in HOOKMAN at Steep Theatre. Photo by Lee Miller.
Kiayla Ryann in HOOKMAN at Steep Theatre. Photo by Lee Miller.

Steep Theatre Presents A Play for Horror Fans

Director Vanessa Stalling successfully mines these horror tropes throughout Yee’s play. At one moment in the play, the set up for a jump scare is so by-the-book that when the Hookman didn’t appear behind an open door, an audience member behind me still gasped out loud, so sure was she that a scare was coming. At other creepy moments in the play, blood mysteriously drips or oozes from people and objects. And in one utterly fantastic and truly impressive moment, a character’s face is graphically--and hilariously--ripped off by a hook. Squeamish theatre-goers may wish to avoid this audacious play for such gross-out moments, but for those relishing the thought of seeing such horrific events playing out on stage and on screen, Hookman is just the ticket. Between Jon Beal’s impressive violence and gore design and the stellar work of Mark Comiskey (who created the projection design), this play delivers at a level similar to those beloved slashers of the 80s.



Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.


Steep Theatre

1115 West Berwyn, Chicago, IL 60640



Through May 27, 2017

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8pm

Sunday matinees at 3pm (excluding April 23)

Running Time: 70 minutes, no intermission


This production contains violence and sexual situations and is intended for adult audiences.

Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.



General Admission Tickets: $25
Reserved Seat Tickets: $35
Access Tickets: $10


About the Author:

Brent Ervin-Eickhoff is a Chicago-based director, writer, and educator. In addition to PictureThisPost, he has written for HowlRound and Third Coast Review. Brent has worked with A Red Orchid Theatre, Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co., The Arc Theatre, The Public House Theatre, Something Marvelous, Whiskey Radio Hour, and The Burrowers. He is also a co-founder of Blue Goose Theatre Ensemble.
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