Pochsy Unplugged

By Rebecca Caldwell (for the Globe and Mail)

World Stage, at Harbourfront Centre - April 22, 2005

Words and melodies by Karen Hines.

Music and sound by Greg Morrison.

Before she became known as the steely self-righteous Karen on cult-favourite TV show The Newsroom, Toronto's Karen Hines invented the cabaret-style clown Pochsy, whose beguiling sweetness carries a venomous aftertaste as she caustically sends up the preoccupations of contemporary life, namely rampant consumerism. The collection of her trio of Pochsy plays -- Pochsy's Lips, Oh, baby and Citizen Pochsy -- was last year short-listed for a GovernorGeneral's Award for Drama. Hines's latest stage show, Pochsy Unplugged, revisits some of her best material.

Long-time musical collaborator Greg Morrison accompanies her on piano for segments including favourites such as being audited, Pochsy's adoption of a post-Buddhist lifestyle, her job at Mercury Packers (packing mercury) -- and her doctor's appointments for mercury-poisoning treatment. In Pochsy, Hines has created a truly subversive character who both blindly accepts meaningless maxims and then explodes them with perfect deadpan timing, one who is fluent in the jargon of current coolspeak but never quite willing to face the chill of its real meaning. "The future belongs to the children," she'll say with air-headed optimism, waiting a beat before adding, "at least some of them."

As Hines's character sings to her foster child, whose name she has never managed to learn how to pronounce, "It's a horribly beautiful world" and Pochsy Unplugged is a horribly beautiful, wickedly funny show.



Pochsy a minx of laughs and distress

Robert Crew (for the Toronto Star)

Harbourfront Centre's Studio Theatre - April 24, 2005

Written and performed by Karen Hines.

Directed by Sandra Balcovske.

Karen Hines' Pochsy, the crown princess of narcissism, has become one of the little gems of Canadian theatre, an unforgettable character steeped in equal measures of honey and acid.

We first met her in 1992 in a show called Pochsy's Lips, to be followed a year or so later by the prequel, called Oh Baby. But Toronto has never seen a full run of part III, called Citizen Pochsy, which has been around for about three years.

Now we get a chance to sample at least some of that material. Pochsy Unplugged, now at the World Stage: Flying Solo festival, is a clever distillation of all three pieces.

Pochsy, with her cupid-bow lips, cute black outfit, white headband and long boots, starts by having a word with God. "I'll believe in you if you believe in me," she says. "And for those that have hurt me, please God, find a way to hurt them back."

Pochsy is all about self and doesn't want children —"I don't want to be life-giving, I want to be breathtaking." She had a foster child for a while but can't quite get her name right or remember where she lives and besides the cheque she wrote for the charity bounced, so they lost touch.

"I have been super-busy lately," she explains.

Oh, she knows about the world's problems, such as overpopulation, melting icecaps, countries waging war on each other, and so on. It's just that the right banking plan is at the forefront of her mind at present, and she has difficulty coming up with such words as "compassion" and "holocaust."

If this were all, the Pochsy saga would be a finely honed satire of the all-absorbing consumerism of contemporary society but Hines pushes it further.

Pochsy is victim as well as villain; she has worked for years for Mercury Packing and it's much easier to lick your bare fingers and pick up those little blobs of mercury rather than wear gloves.

Pochsy is dying but thinks her doctor has a crush on her because he is submitting her to a battery of tests that can't possibly be justified.

Her sweet self-delusion, her very real fear of growing old and of dying alone — all of this is heartbreaking. "I am only being human," she sings.

Hines works the audience beautifully, relishes the comic effect of a well-placed pause and has developed a wonderful physical signature for the role. The music, with Greg Morrison at the piano, is perfect for the cabaret-style presentation.

Pochsy may be one of a kind but there is a little piece of her in all of us.

hello... hello

A Cassandra that deserves to be listened to

Globe and Mail Theatre Critic
Friday May 7, 1999

Karen Hines plays a woman with visions of the meaninglessness of life in a musical satire that has emotional and thematic resonance.

Written by Karen Hines;
Score by Greg Morrison with Karen Hines.
Directed by Chris Earle
Starring Karen Hines, David Jansen, Steven Morel and Teresa Pavlinek

In Karen Hines's new musical satire hello ... hello, all the world has gone crazy for a new jewelry item, a perfect little silver ball that hangs from a chain around the neck - and contains within it a drop of deadly poison. Her show is similar: an exquisitely crafted piece with some poisonous content.

Set in a future that features both the gleaming veneer of a Fred Astaire movie and the most apocalyptic visions of the present come true, hello . . . hello is a love story - sort of. In the graveyard where she mourns her dead boyfriend, a suicidal artist in an age that has forgotten art, Cassandra meets Ben, a man who knows how to put his poetic soul to good capitalist use. They fall in love, have sex in their designer underwear, marry, honeymoon in an exotic location, and set out living the very good life. But Cassandra (as her mythic name might suggest) is someone with visions: for all Ben's attention and material comforts, she can not escape intimations that life is meaningless and love a false consolation.

Hines, director of the horror clowns Mump and Smoot and star of her own one-woman comedy shows featuring the narcissistic Pochsy, is seeking to create a highly unusual effect here. More than half of her script is not theatrical dialogue but rather literary narration, delivered by a two-person chorus who describe in flowery language this polluted, consumerist world in which everyone is outrageously happy but suicide is fashionable. They also recount the progress of the love story and sing along with Cassandra and Ben on the show's deceptively cheery musical numbers.

If Hines succeeds, creating a piece that is seamlessly stylish and intellectually provocative, it is thanks not only to her sharp script and pert performance in the role of Cassandra, but also because music director Greg Morrison has composed bright little tunes that perfectly off-set the dark little lyrics he and Hines have co-written. They are a duo who would think to rhyme "outrageous" with "sagacious" as the musical line bounces along underneath, or include a joyous song about pregnancy entitled When a Rabbit Dies. Chris Earle's direction is also smartly in step with Hines's style while Vikki Anderson's set and costume designs quickly capture the look of 1930's modernist glamour that summarizes this dysTOPia.

Hines's perfectly petite Cassandra is a smooth mix of playful expressionism, delicate clowning and a dash of natural emotion, while in the role of Ben Stratford veteran David Jansen is solid. In fact, he's a little too, solid for this arch show which demands a more light-fingered approach to Ben's mute confusion. As the saucy chorus, Steven Morel and Teresa Pavlinek nearly produce the required tone in both speech and song.

With its fixed attitudes and narrow emotions, satire is always a limited dramatic form, that hello ... hello should resonate emotionally and thematically as much as it does is a great testament to the production and to Hines's pen. That said. the self-consciousness of this show, forever winking its eye at the gap between its zippy tunes and black lyrics, its entertaining surface and hellish depths, is also cloying. Like the deadly silver ball, hello ... hello is an acquired taste for a disaffected age.

Ctizen Pochsy

Acid meditations from Citizen Pochsy

citizen pochsyLIZ NICHOLLS

Citizen Pochsy: Head Movements Of A Long- Haired Girl
Theatre: Pochsy Productions at Workshop West's
KaBoom Festival
Directed by: John Turner
Starring: Karen Hines

Kafka finds his inner clown in the macabre black comedy that opens Workshop West's KaBoom3 Festival. The face of an angel, the heart of avenging fury ... meet Pochsy, the kewpie with a toxic 50-50 cocktail of charm and vitriol pumping through her tiny veins.

If you haven't encountered the smudge-eyed waif before - in Pochsy's Lips, where she waltzes onto stage swathed in bandages and attached to an intravenous pole, or Oh, Baby, where she's convalescing on vacation at The Last Resort - rush over to La Cité francophone tonight. If you have, you won't need to be told. Toronto's Karen Hines is an astonishing artist, both as a writer and performer. Her acid meditation on our modem confusion, narcissistic insecurities and market-driven hunger for the quick-fix comes via the sugary smile and breathlessly baby-doll ways of a fully formed character. You will laugh, a lot, and Pochsy will help you be dismayed at your laugh lines.

This latest solo appearance, a prequel of sorts to her other two, finds the employee of Mercury Packers (a subsidiary of Lead World) in a ruminative frame of mind. Like Kafka's Joseph K, she has been summoned. "It was the government calling," she whispers melodramatically, round eyes widening at the sinister machinations of the world. "And I don't even vote."

Now she's in a waiting room, waiting to be audited - "reassessed" she says, providing the knowing quotation marks, hands fluttering like little wings. The possibility of hostile scrutiny puts her in mind for an all-embracing philosophical self-justification. "In spite of everything that's happened, I have to believe that people are good at heart," she says earnestly, echoing Anne Franks famous heartbreaker. Echoing? Pochsy is virtually a human echo chamber for the slogans, , the self-help truisms, the catchphrases of the age. She thinks she might be a neo-Buddhist or maybe a post-Buddhist. "I've moved beyond that whole pursuit of nirvana thing," she says, cutting to the chase: "I just want to live long enough to be young and beautiful forever."

Aging obsesses her. She's shocked by a strange street encounter; the woman's voice was "weird," and "there was something very wrong with her skin. Then, I realized (dramatic pause) she was old." Pochsy's mind whirls through motherhood ("I don't want to be life-giving; I want to be breath-taking"), world poverty, environmental disasters, over-population, unexploded landmines, child abuse, and dismisses them to address a more pressing, i.e. personal, existential crisis. "These are my saving years. And I need a plan that's right for me." What follows is a surreal torch song about the banking industry. The faux-innocence of the self-obsessed makes it quite natural that Pochsy would have a grand piano and a superb musician (Greg Morrison) at her disposal.

The highlight of a brilliant piece of play construction is the whirling, climactic vision of urban chaos direct to us from the murky labyrinth of Pochsy's brain. The glittering rant of it will remind you of Martin Amis's London Fields or Steven Berkoff's Greek as Pochsy climbs into her silver Pontiac Impatience, and drives on and on, past hospitals where patients administer cardiac paddles to each other, or oil-slick streets where cyclists careen aerially into the sides of Acuras.

As Pochsy sheds her coat, then jacket, in a range of seductive moves, you note a Band-aid in the crook of her arm, the kind you get when you give a blood sample. You just know it came out black and toxic.

citizen pochsy

Pochsy's, um, superfunny

citizen pochsyCitizen Pochsy: Head Movements of a Long-Haired Girl

At the Firehall Arts Centre
Tickets: 604-689-0926
Reviewed by Jo Ledingham

She's a mini-skirted, longhaired minx with a cupid mouth and her name is Pochsy. How white-skinned she is, how sparkly and long-lashed her eyes, and how shiny and cherry-red her lips. But poor, poor Pochsy: she's being audited. Reclassified as self-employed (and we can all guess why) by Mercury Packers where she, yes, packs mercury, Pochsy has reported several deductions on her tax return-like hair products and hand cream-that have set off alarms at RevCan. So now she finds herself with a box of receipts and a big purse full of bottled water, HandiWipes, snacks and beauty products waiting alone in the auditor's reception area. Citizenship comes with responsibility, she muses, so she guesses the audit is OK. On the other hand, she argues, "I'm a citizen and everything - but I don't even vote."

You gotta love Pochsy. Because if you don't you might dislike her. With her "gym-firm flesh" and a little dress on layaway at KinderSlut, she's a completely self-absorbed "neo-Buddhist" or "post-Buddhist" or, um, whatever. She's an, um, vegetarian. No, she's uh, hmm, "I only eat veal."

Lately she's been thinking about "deeper meaning and blahbiddy blah" even though she's been "super busy"- too busy to keep up her $20/month payments for the foster care of a Third World, 11-year-old girl whose name she can't remember. Pochsy can't remember a lot of things and increasingly, throughout what might be subtitled Waiting for the Auditor, she uses an inhaler: "It's for, um. It's for, ah. It's for - oh yes, clarity."

Presented by Ruby Slippers Theatre, Pochsy is writer/performer Karen Hines' stage persona and a bitterly funny voice for expressing 21st century angst in all its forms: environmental degradation, marketplace morality, spiritual decay, unhappiness, uncertainty and loneliness. Hines keeps it darkly funny-the kind of funny that has you laughing not at what Pochsy says but laughing because Hines is outrageous enough to say it.

Best and most provocative of all is the enigma that is Pochsy. While we may not shop at KinderSlut, who among us hasn't tried to look younger or sexier? We may not drive our cars across the street to work-like Pochsy does-but who hasn't taken the car to the corner store for a litre of milk on a rainy night? Who among us hasn't begun a well-intentioned act of charity and failed to follow through? Tried traditional religion, yoga, transcendental meditation and a plethora of other spiritual paths? And who, in this world, in this "dangerous place" hasn't longed for God - or someone - to find him or her? Is Pochsy simply mad-keeping in mind she handles mercury that gave rise to the expression "mad as a hatter"? Or is Pochsy "supersane" as well as super busy? Is her maxim "The future is now, it just hasn't happened yet" some pop culture gobbledygook or a challenge to seize the opportunity today to make the world a better place tomorrow?

You simply can't dismiss Pochsy: she is, as she says, "only human." And it's clear, by the end of Citizen Pochsy, that the audit she faces is the really big one, one of the true certainties - right up there with taxes. Not surprisingly, she can't remember the other one.

citizen pochsy

Pochsy a gem that's as funny as hell

citizen pochsyCITIZEN POCHSY

At the Firehall Arts Centre, 280 E. Cordova


Pochsy is a good citizen who's about to be audited. While she waits in fear we stare in astonishment, as this mix of vixen and philosopher (who can't decide if she's neo- or post-Buddhist) lets loose in a 90-minute rant peppered by brittle Brechtian songs. Run to see it, because this gem only sparkles until Saturday.

Toronto writer/performer Karen Hines creates a character so disturbed and disturbing that it's a good thing Pochsy is also funny as hell. She starts out garbed in a look that says "look away" but soon displays enough of both her taut body and loosygoosy mindset to make us gasp at how garrulously goofy a young Canadian gal can be. Pochsy drives to work at the Mercury factory, even though she lives across the street from it, and that's only one of the infinite ways she is in our universe, but not really of it.

John Turner of Mump & Smoot fame directs Citizen Pochsy, returning the favour since Hines directs his shows, and much in evidence here are the same dark thematics of those twisted clowns. Pochsy talks to us of love and God (and not just one god, either, in a pantheon of thoughts about divinity) and breaks into equally koan-curling songs as composer Greg Morrison performs on keyboard. Darren O'Donnell's design is supremely simple, with much of the show's fine style provided by Cimmeron Eve Meyer's incredibly tight lighting.

It's foolish to try and convey the magic of Citizen Pochsy with just one example, but her trip to the bank does bring this delicious exchange, bathed by what else but blood-red light, in a song: "Can you tell me if you bank by phone?" "Can you tell me, will I die alone?"

oh baby

Letter from Toronto

oh babyFrom Pochsy to Napoleon: The hits and misses of the spring season.


TheaterWeek June 6-12, 1994

A winter vacation to a tropical island shimmers as a blissful fantasy on a cold February night - but not if your companion is the sweetly poisonous Pochsy, the self-styled heroine of her own life and the key figure in Oh, Baby.

Writer/performer Karen Hines introduced the character several years ago in Pochsy's Lips, a delightfully wicked piece which presented the white-gowned, white-faced and kohl-eyed Pochsy - rhymes with doxy - in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV tube. That earlier show played Alice's Fourth Floor in Manhattan in February 1993, and is now on tour to Minneapolis and Denver. There are plans to mount Oh, Baby in New York at a future date.

Totally narcissistic yet anxious for love, the smiling and seemingly innocent Pochsy skewers politically correct attitudes, especially ecological matters, with a darkly comic style. Her hospital visit in Pochsy's Lips is due, we gather, to the labor-saving technique she devised in her job. Packing beads of mercury that sometimes landed on the floor, Pochsy found the easiest way to retrieve the drops was to lick her finger and pick them up.

In Oh, Baby - presumably preserved in fluorescent mercury herself - Pochsy embarks on an island holiday for a little rest-and-recreation at The Last Resort. Ever the Betty Boop waif, dripping with patent insincerity, Pochsy toys with phone sex, environmental concerns, loneliness in the '90s and friendship. She also encounters an angel, addresses God "I talk and he listens; ours isn't an interactive relationship", guilt-trips her parents and fantasizes about an ideal future "The world is my oyster; I shall not want." But no matter the topic, she makes herself the center - no, the be-all and end-all of every adventure in the show, revised for this production at the Factory Theater Studio Cafe since its sold-out run at the Toronto fringe festival last summer.

Monstrous innocence collides head-on with colossal egotism as Pochsy recounts the touching events of a friend's funeral. "But it's okay," she reassures us, "don't feel sorry for me. I don't need her any more."

Style is all-important here, and, working with director Sandra Balcovske, Hines exquisitely combines the angelic and the narcissistic. Complete with breathy little-girl voice, innocent expressions and stylized gestures, she performs tuneful ditties (Jolson feel-good melodies and Garland heart-on-sleeve tunes co-created with Greg Morrison) and lectures on life aTOP a half-shell. Pochsy is the perfect Botticelli Venus, reborn with attitude.

But Michel Charbonneau's clever shell-and-beach set is also the lip of a volcano surrounded by slag chips, a combined image of birth and death. Though the apocalypse may flutter close by, no one blends biblical echoes and brand-name supermarket products with more aplomb than Pochsy. From her lacquer-hard perch, she provides audiences with the perfect pina colada, followed by an arsenic chaser.

oh baby

Pochsy's back in town

oh babyBy H. J. KIRCHHOFF

The Globe and Mail - Nov. 22, 1992



Directed by Sandra Balcovske

Starring Karen Hines

Karen Hines' one-woman show Oh, Baby is a remount of a sequel (to the much-admired Pochsy's Lips), so you may already know that it features the loopy storytelling and engaging presence of Hines' clown creation, Pochsy.

This time, Pochsy is on a "dream vacation," in many more ways than one. Pochsy's life, after all, is made up of fantasies, which intertwine so thoroughly with her real life that it is seldom clear where one ends and the other begins. As she tells her story, fantasy and reality are both Informed by the same sly humour and off-beat, on-the-mark observation, so maybe there is no difference.

The vacation - she has just been laid off by Mercury Packers, "where I pack mercury" - and is off to The Last Resort, "on a little island just off the state of grace." Pochsy tries to mix with the resort crowd, but nothing seems to connect. Even the "chat line" phone calls she charges to other rooms inevitably go wonky, and a sexual adventure with a singed angel ends up in ashes.

Although she can be self-centred to the point of cruelty, Pochsy has enough built-in warmth and vulnerability charm. And Hines is an attractive, gracefully expressive performer, with slyly clever delivery and a lot of personality. The pale costume white-face makeup and ruby-red, Clara Bow mouth make her a strikingly watchable stage presence. Her slightest move is deftly choreographed, and effective.

The script, by Hines with an assist from director Sandra Balcovske, is weirdly intelligent, and carefully and intricately made. There is the standard beginning, middle and end, but crossed by dozens of diverting, surreal digressions that suddenly implode with relevance.

Greg Morrison's score, which he performs live, is full of aural jokes and perfectly integrated into the show, and Michel Charbonneau's giant seashell set and clever lighting complement the performances without ever getting in the way.

Oh, Baby by is another one of those good Fringe shows that has been re-mounted, hoping for larger audiences. It certainly deserves them.

pochsy's lips

Pochsy's Lips turns death into eerie, funny brilliance.

pochsy's lipsReviewed by Liz Nicholls

The Edmonton Journal - August 20, 1992

Written by Karen Hines
Music by Greg Morrison
Directed by and written with the collaboration of Sandra Balcovske.

To give a character the breath of life AND to locate him in his world AND to do it all alone on the stage: it's tackled by The Many and achieved by The Few at the Fringe.

The eerie brilliance of Pochsy's Lips isn't easy to convey. It has a queasy macabre hilarity that Karen Hines, its creator and star, controls with an expert touch. "Everything's failing apart, but everyone's falling in love," sings Pochsy sweetly at the outset from her hospital bed, accompanied by a tinny piano score. Head bandaged, eyes mortally smudged, arm connected to an intravenous pole, she beams angelically and confides that she's always felt sorry for anyone who hasn't found their special someone, and adds: "But then I think it's probably their own fault".

It's Pochsy's delicate, mysterious relationship with her own death that is so fascinating and wince-making and . . . hilarious. We know she is dying. Does she? "When I like what I see I enjoy being me," she says gaily, applying blush-on to the chalky pallor. Pochsy, a kind of grotesque angel, is a repository of pop-culture sentimentalism and half baked romantic notions. And she loops together Hallmark non-sequiturs with a blithe facility.

Pochsy reveals that she, too, is in love - with her doctor, Dr. Caligari. "When he examines me, it's like I'm the only one in the room." This is humor of the gallows persuasion. And when she happily reads us a clouds-and-cotton-candy get-well card, and when it says sympathetically that "it's too bad you're probably dying" and when she signs it herself "love from all your friends at Mercury Packers", the laughter catches you by the throat.

Her vision of sickness is that there is a squid where her heart should be, and its tentacles are shooting algae into her veins. And there is something so horrifying about this comic conceit that is echoed every time she skates around the bed on her IV contraption, like someone with a scooter.

What emerges, but in the most dark, delicate way, is innocence doomed, in a world full of deadly poisons and sugarplum commercial fantasies. Once seen not forgotten.

pochsy's lips

Delectable Lips

pochsy's lipsBy JON KAPLAN and JILL LAWLESS

NOW Magazine, December 3-9, 1992

Written by Karen Hines
Music by Greg Morrison
Directed by and written with the collaboration of Sandra Balcovske.

Karen Hines' Pochsy is the perfect clown creation for our times - sweet on the surface, bitter at the core. She's a walking, singing, dancing embodiment of designer nihilism.

With a pink nightie and an I.V. drip, ill and maybe dying, Pochsy is evil wrapped in a bow - she's amoral, self-centred and calculating, but packages herself with coy smarminess and lives her life like one of the lifestyle ads she constantly quotes. Both Pochsy and her world are poisoned, but she sings country-inflected songs (Everything's Falling Apart But Everyone's Failing In Love) and fantasizes herself into glamorous Hollywood scenarios.

This remarkable show is fueled by unease - the hilarious constantly threatens to become harrowing. Hines exercises tight control as Pochsy skips blithely over her tragic farce of a life, moving things along at a breathless pace but sTOPping for a perfectly turned cliche or a perceptive image.

That control allows Hines to drive a stake through the heart of sentiment. Wrapping disturbing and macabre content in the slick, heart-tugging package of popular song and advertising, her comedy has the rare ability to make the audience laugh while feeling queasy.

pochsy's lips

A Miracle of Bitter Hope

pochsy's lipsReview by Simon Houpt

eye Magazine - November 19, 1992

Written by Karen Hines
Music by Greg Morrison
Directed by and written with the collaboration of Sandra Balcovske.

Pochsy's Lips is the best new production of the theatre season. Period.

Solo performer Karen Hines has lapped into the dark confusion and alienation unique to our age, and mined a work of gossamer charm and deadly power.

For the record, Pochsy is a young woman dying of what is probably mercury poisoning, contracted while handling the stuff at a mercury packing plant. The details aren't important; Pochsy herself thinks she's sick because She 's got a squid where her heart should be. Don't ask.

What stands out is Pochsy herself, a jumbled repository of 20th-century motivational late-night TV junk and high culture. She matter-of-factly calls God out on the carpet for His failure to even respond to her prayers, noting that "Success is an attitude, Lord. Get yours right." Later, quoting tag lines from choice advertising campaigns, she tells God that He has been declared redundant, and wishes him good luck in his future endeavors. Is this Nietzsche revisited, or just Dale Carnegie as the Supreme Being?

Informationally overloaded environmentally spent, spiritually bereft, and quite possibly meaningless, our times are not for the weak at heart. The miracle of Pochsy's Lips is that here we are not only convinced they make perfect sense, but also that, somehow, a kind of bitter hope is reigning supreme

Like the clowns she has directed for the best few years, Mump and Smoot, Hines is always aware of the audience and its role in the theatrical experience. Someone sneezes and she'll say "God bless you," in the middle of a story. It takes guts to be a clown - especially in timid Toronto - and it's great to see after all this time that the master of Mump and Smoot is herself a dazzling performer.

More than 40 years ago, Samuel Beckett said that we are given birth "astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more." Blithely snickering in the face of that bleak destiny, Pochsy is part of the light that keeps us laughing as we plunge into the darkness. Beckett, a lover of clowns would have fallen for her.