Book Reviews: Hello... Hello
The momentum and perspicacity of this inventive play is evident on the page. It is also obvious why Hines is lauded as one of the nation's premier dramatists. What is not obvious is why Hello...Hello isn't a staple of guerilla theatre that is staged on subways in our city's commercial core as a tonic to the fact that people would rather pay $100 to watch wizards and trolls singing and dancing about a mythical misplaced ring than contemplate our own role in the universe's destruction.
– Ibi Kaslik Eye Weekly,
Alberta Views - September 2007: Jeff Kubick
Producing a play is about creating a world. It's a physical space built on the foundations of a script, with light, energy, sound and motion adding literal depth to the two-dimensional page. Without performance, a script is a half-complete space.
What makes Hello...Hello so remarkable, then, is Karen Hines's ability to craft a script with all the texture of prose. With the backdrop realized largely through the words of the play's supporting chorus characters, Hines paints images – like a rainfall of sparrows stunned by office tower glass, or a sudden wave of frost – that are as poetic as they are theatrical.
Hello ... Hello is a musical satire of the traditional love story, set in a city where beauty reveals the hideous as often as it does the inverse. Ben, a fast-rising advertising executive, sellls products to consumers who crave distraction from a world in which the unnamed decay has already reduced the seven seas to six. In the play's most poignant metaphor of its balance between beauty and overwhelming sadness, he presides over a campaign for an unlikely piece of jewellery: an ethereal silver ball full of poison. Cassandra sells beauty at a clothing store called The Abyss. ("Lovely things," she sings, "Can make this bleak life worth the grieving.") She meets Ben as she mourns her fiance, whose artistic legacy is ultimately appropriated in the marketing of the same poison-filled jewellery that makes Ben a wunderkind. Though both characters sense the tragic nature of their world, it is Cassandra (played by Hines herself in all the play's productions to date) who feels the weight most acutely, if unclearly, as they move toward their life together – from courtship to marriage and finally to the birth of their child.
An unabashed piece of prose poetry mixed with the literal poetry of its musical interludes, Hello...Hello has a textured setting painted in decadent strokes by its ubiquitous chorus characters, who play both city inhabitants and narrators. But if the play's enthusiasm for its world's broken beauty slips occasionally into generous description, Hines proves equally capable of finding poetry in elegant simplicity, whether referring to a group of accountants as as "anguish" or following Cassandra to her dead lover's grave. "I brought you some flowers. I don't think their colour is natural. I think it was done to them.
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. Even on the page, Hines's words are anything but two-dimensional.
Books in Canada - September 2007: Martin Morrow
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)