‘Hooked!’ at Inis Nua Theatre Company in Philadelphia

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If there’s one thing the Irish are good at, it’s keeping – and creating, and gossiping about – secrets. (My Irish grandmother practically turned it into an art form.) In Hooked!, playwright Gillian Grattan offers up a trio of Irish villagers whose stockpiles of secrets create suspicion and anger amongst their neighbors – and a lot of laughs for their audience. Director Tom Reing stages the play on the second floor of Fergie’s Pub in Center City Philadelphia, and it’s an ideal setting; the casual atmosphere is perfect for this collection of extended monologues. Yes, these are people in a bar who just won’t shut up – but for once, you won’t mind.

Rachel Brodeur and Corinna Burns. Photo by Katie Reing.
Rachel Brodeur and Corinna Burns. Photo by Katie Reing.

Hooked! takes place in a typical insular Irish town that’s set in its ways, and the order there is upended when budding artist Lydia moves in. She immediately raises the hackles of “neighborhood busybody” Mary, who scorns the newcomer for strutting around “like she’s the Queen of Sheba,” though Lydia’s only sin seems to be that she has the nerve to be young and pretty. Lydia, who is perceptive and wise beyond her years, senses “an undercurrent of hatred” from the women in the local pub, but that’s because she draws the attention of the men – including Mary’s ne’er-do-well husband Tom. Mary, Lydia and Tom take turns telling their versions of the story to the audience, and Grattan skillfully uses the shifting perspective to flesh out the story, building to an involving climax. And the monologues give everyone complexity: these are well-drawn characters, and Grattan lets you see what motivates them and lets you warm up to them.

Corinna Burns. Photo by Katie Reing.
Corinna Burns. Photo by Katie Reing.

Reing plants the three actors in different corners of the pub and rarely lets them move out of their own personal zones. The isolated staging helps to keep the stories distinct, and the intimacy of the space – the actors are probably no more than twenty feet away from the furthest audience member – gives the show a cozy feel.

(Andrew Cowles’ soft lighting helps a lot.) Corinna Burns plays the sharp-tongued Mary with welcome acidity, and Rachel Brodeur gives Lydia a wry knowingness; but both actresses do exceptionally well in the play’s poignant moments, providing depth that grounds the characters.

Charlie DelMarcelle’s outlandish Tom is the wild card here – DelMarcelle has a light touch, and he improvises and interacts with the audience to earn the show’s biggest laughs. And he plays Tom’s kinks (the character’s secret involves a fondness for wearing ladies’ lingerie) with a wink.

If you’re worried that you might miss some of the words in a noisy place like Fergie’s, don’t: the actors are all good with accents, and they all have voices that project well, so you won’t have any problems hearing them over the rowdy crowd downstairs (though you’re likely to hear impromptu renditions of “Happy Birthday” and the Eagles fight song wafting up from below).

Hooked! is a good play with a fine cast, but it’s the setting that makes it special. Fergie’s Pub is such an important part of this production that it’s virtually a fourth character.

Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.

Hooked! plays through October 25, 2015 at Inis Nua Theatre Company, performing at Fergie’s Pub – 1214 Sansom Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 454-9776, or purchase them online.

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