Calgary Fringe – The Hoodwink – Review

The Hoodwink

August 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11

Festival Hall

http://see.calgaryfringe.ca/events/371-the-hoodwink

I was dreading seeing this play. Not because Melanee Murray isn’t a talented performer worth my attention. She most definitely is! Nor because The Hoodwink, a one woman show described as “ a little bit of Tootsie, a whole lot of Tupac and a comic tale of a single mom trying to raise a young boy” didn’t sound intriguing. I loved the premise!  Plus it was the triple winner of the 2012 Calgary One-Act Play festival for outstanding production, script and actress. All sounds good, right? So what was my problem?

My anxiety was all about friendship. The potential worst enemy of any critic. You see Melanee’s husband is a colleague of mine and someone I’m honoured to call a friend. One that I hoped would still return the sentiment should I not like the play and have to give it a poor review. I wondered, could a critic’s code outweigh a husband’s understandable loyalty to his actor-wife? Frankly, I really didn’t want to find out. So it was with fingers crossed and a bit of a queasy gut that I went to see what I hoped would be a great show and performance.

I got 75% of my wish. The Hoodwink is a great performance of a really good story idea that translated into an okay play.

The story centers on Albie Davis, a single mother struggling to make ends meet. She’s a talented poet, actress and singer who’s unemployment stems from her principles. Unlike other performers, Albie won’t sex her look up or downplay her political and social intelligence to get the gig.

When she hears about a new reality show called Hip Hop Survivor where the winner gets a contract with the famous rapper Trigga Trev, Albie goes out to audition. But with songs like Hair Relaxer Burns and Clitorectomy in the Congo, plus her audition ode to her hair weave, Albie’s chances are over before they even start.

Desperate, she decides to make herself over (under) as a 15 year old Somali child soldier rapper named 10 cent and goes back to the tryouts. Despite some shaky free-style attempts, 10 cent captures the interest of Trigga himself and is booked on the show.

You can probably play the rest of the script on your own from here. 10 cent is a huge hit despite his politically charged and socially activist raps and soon he emerges as the star of the reality show with his songs being played around the world. We all know the clock is ticking before the jig is up.

Murray plays no less than 11 parts in this play and this is where The Hoodwink really shines. Whether it’s Leon the old-school talent booker with the politically incorrect views and the lascivious ways, Marcus the little boy excited to read a birthday card to his mom, Fercida the acerbic agent telling it like it is, Jewels the hoochie-mamma rapper, Trigga the cool celebrity with decent swagger or the Albie/10 cent character, Murray is near flawless in her character embodiment. Without the aid of costume or props Murray moves effortlessly from one character to the next and it is because of her talent that we are equally happy to see each one of her characters on stage.

As for the writing, well there is no doubt that Murray has an ironic, sarcastic, smart sense of humour. While her characters may be fairly stereotypical, the lines they get to deliver are anything but commonplace. In fact, they are often quite comically biting. After hearing Albie complain that only the tarted-up singers with no brains get booked, her agent Fercida remarks “It’s a marketplace out there Albie and people want produce that is fresh and shiny with not a lot to say”. The Hoodwink is full of refreshingly honest, funny, sometimes profane dialogue that never talks down to the audience or shelters them from ideas. I was impressed.

You’d think then that the play itself would also be great, but somehow it just didn’t quite hit the mark. Perhaps it was just too many superfluous characters like Albie’s friend William who really served no narrative purpose. Maybe the short scenes didn’t really give a chance for the wonderful dialogue to breathe and live a little larger. And most definitely the length of the play, which at only 65 minutes, seemed to drag on longer than necessary with just too many rap songs that weren’t provocative or interesting enough to warrant that much time.

Mix all those elements together and we’re back at my 75% comment. The Hoodwink for me showed greatness in acting and much of the writing, but was watered down by just ok-ness in plot and production.

RATING

For the guys and girls – Murray’s characters are at turns interesting and hilarious to watch. She pokes fun at both genders and all manners of black and white personalities. Enough so that you can probably forgive the obvious story arc and the overly lengthy running time. SEE IT

For the occasional theatre goer – Too many characters with not enough flow in the narrative will leave you confused. The language may offend and if not the rap scene world may be unrelatable in a bigger context. SKIP IT

For the theatre junkie – Is a great performance with some smart dialogue worth seeing even if the play itself isn’t as strong? I’d like to think so. MAYBE SEE IT

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