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Book Reviews: Hello... Hello

In a world gone whimsically insane, Hines has created a rich satire on the intersections between business, art and love. Gentle, hialrious and tragic, Hello...Hello is more than a theatrical magic trick that turns four actors into an entire world; it is an absorbing universe contained in 112 pages.
- Jeff Kubick, Alberta Views

Books in Canada - September 2007:

A Suicide-Site Guide to the City would almost be a more suitable name for Karen Hines’s Hello… Hello, a play whose bland appellation doesn’t do justice to such a deliciously dark slice of urban whimsy. Hines, like O’Donnell, is a Toronto playwright-director-actor with a foot in Calgary and a taste for the subversive. But her weapon of choice is satire, most notably in her trio of sweetly nasty solos, The Pochsy Plays, and in her recurring television role as Karen in Ken Finkleman’s The Newsroom. With Hello… Hello, Hines and frequent collaborator Greg Morrison (co-composer of The Drowsy Chaperone) set out to satirise the musical romance, simultaneously spoofing the genre’s conventions and serving up a Pochsy-style commentary on contemporary consumerist culture, couched in Hines’s inimitable faux-innocent, mock-lyrical style. Who else could take the horrible image of birds crashing into mirrored skyscrapers and plummeting to their deaths and imbue it with such melancholy charm?
The skyscrapers belong to a shiny megalopolis in a near future even more doom-laden and damaged than the present. In this blighted cityscape Hines sets her twisted boy-meets-girl story. The boy is Ben Cordair, creative guru for a marketing firm called Quicksilver Incorporated (as Pochsy fans know, Hines has a strange fascination with mercury), and the girl is Cassandra, a salesgirl at a trendy clothing store called The Abyss. The two meet in the graveyard, where they’ve both come to mourn dead lovers. They date, marry, have a baby, and settle in a house in bucolic Semi-Residentia. All is not well, however; while Ben’s career takes off, the troubled, housebound Cassandra is unable to bond with her preemie infant and remains obsessed with her late fiancé, a suicidal artist whose last words were either “There’s no money in poetry” or “There’s no poetry in money.” The tale of Ben and Cassandra plays out against the glossy black backdrop of a world in the grips of a genteel despair, where those slain birds rain down from the sky, bananas and cod have become extinct, and suicide has been commodified in the form of a poison elixir sold as a pendant and slickly marketed (by Ben’s firm) as if it were a perfume or a pair of jeans.
Hines takes small, neat stabs at everything from environmental degradation to the emasculation of art by commerce, as well as sending up sentimental sources as timeless as Romeo and Juliet and as trite as baby-powder commercials. Unlike the typical musical, she eschews heavy scenery for airy words, painting the surroundings with her hilariously “precious” descriptions, spoken by a Greek chorus of one male and one female, who between them also play a hundred-odd supporting roles. Having read Hello… Hello, I now wish I could see it performed-and hear Morrison’s music to Hines’s wry lyrics. While it did receive productions at Toronto’s Factory and Tarragon theatres, its dark vision, however frothily rendered, seems likely to put off most mainstream producers. Then again, as that rare thing-a musical with a cast of four and almost no set or props-it’s certainly worth the risk.

Martin Morrow (Books in Canada)

Book Reviews: The Pochsy Plays

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