Hangman School for Girls, Lucy Gillespie’s surreal analysis of the titillations and terrors of the imagination, centers on the incandescently uneasy Hazel (Gillespie), who unloads herself—literally and metaphorically—on a desk in her junior high classroom. It’s no workaday workspace: A dapper, middle-aged man (Nick Afka), whom only Hazel can see, sits at one side of it. During their chats, he offers compliments ranging from the aggrandizing (“You are something special”) to the arboreal (“my sapling”), eventually articulating hopes to get in her drawers. “Why does no one notice how fruitful and delicious [girls] are before puberty?” he remarks, furnishing the play—directed by Leta Tremblay—with echoes of Humbert Humbert.
While Hazel dreams this man into existence, her chipper, chirpy classmates engage in the constant improvisation of teenage socializing. Cliques form and fail, and bullying, like a faulty gene, regenerates into ever-stranger forms. As this free-form psychological study turns brutal, the man throws Hazel against a wall, illustrating the entwinement of abusive relationships and self-abuse. Sometimes, however—as when the man appears at Hazel’s prom, feather in his hat, jiggle in his hip—his nature seems as ill-defined as the average adolescent’s, providing this generally engaging play with its own occasional awkwardness.