Culture  Love, nymphs, and the occasional cliche

Ariella Starkman reviews Hazards of Love: A Folk Opera

“All great truths begin as blasphemies” – George Bernard Shaw

Wait a minute. I’m expected to watch the story of two lovers in a romantic nymph-infested forest, while the soundtrack of their relationship is provided by the indie band The Decemberists? Wait… Valentines Day is next week?

Initial heart palpations aside, I remained unsure if my cynical and yes, still single, heart could handle such enormous sentimental gestures this close to D-Day. I mean V-Day.  Yet, I was assuaged of my fears when I discovered that this original piece seeks to redefine romantic cliches, traditional tropes of “happily ever after,” and their accompanying righteous heroes. After two full years of writing, planning, and creating, McGill students’ James Campbell and Charles Harries proudly present, The Hazards of Love: A Folk Opera.

Upon entering the Players Theatre for my first time, I felt comforted by the recognizable indie instrumental ballads streaming from backstage and the dim lights illuminating the whimsical forest set. I concluded that Campbell and Harries had produced the perfect environment for The Hazards of Love, exactly what you would imagine after having listened to the album. The production’s set, costumes, and lighting all work in tandem to engage the viewer in the quintessential story of two star-crossed lovers, William and Margaret. It’s all very Journey meets Ariel the Little Mermaid meets Romeo and Juliet. In truth, the album was created with the intention of one day being adapted for the stage.,and it works well. Whatever I conjured in my (often hyperbolic) imagination while listening to the album was far exceeded by what was in front of my eyes. However, the Decemberists deeply evocative music and soulful lyrics – accompanied by the sexy forest sprites and a half naked actor – end up unintentionally prevailing over the dialogue in between songs.

The narrative of the album’s lyrics already provide an exciting plot full of pregnancy, abduction, and a needy, yet evil, stepmother. Campbell and Harries were left to connect the narrative in between the album’s songs. The result was surprisingly sappy, considering the press release promised to challenge cliches surrounding romance stories. Yet, I can’t blame them entirely. I mean, they are composing an original play that discusses cumbersome familial duties, questions and concerns of love and commitment, and the anxieties often incurred by young adults. Not exactly  the “anti-fairytale.”

For someone typically adverse to romance – or anything related – I was pleasantly surprised to find myself relating to the challenges the characters faced. I immediately recognized the potential for profound connections with the audience.  Overprotective mother? Got one! Did you really mean “I love you?” Been there! Feeling lost in a hopeless place? Last weekend! However, in the first act, the earnest attempt to reassess these romantic cliches with dialogue was, truthfully, a little cliched itself. Even the conversation between the two lovebirds came across as banal on occasion. It was reminiscent of dialogue from well-known traditional romances like Casablanca or 10 Things I Hate About You.

Nonetheless, as the second act began, the dialogue was suddenly transformed into truly expressive theatre. Was I Jim Carrey in The Grinch? One week until Valentines Day and my heart of ice was quickly beginning to thaw? William and Margaret fought for each other and subsequently made me root for them – yes, they’re a fictional couple – but I rooted for them all the same.

It may be cliched. But that’s just fine. The Hazards of Love: A Folk Opera posesses a captivating soundtrack, a romantic setting, and a passionate cast who showed me, and the rest of the audience, that love is an “interwoven complex of things,” which may make it hazardous, but also makes it worth it.

Happy Valentines Day y’all.