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Mystery of love

Opposites attract in Heart Magnet Ball

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It's fashionable for people to act like Valentine's Day sucks. And it does, if you want it to be some perfect romantic time with a significant other. The one time I ever happened to be dating someone on the holiday, I planned a nice dinner at the fella's house with oven-roasted trout and sauteed kale and sausage. The fella chopped up a homegrown habanero pepper and threw it into the pan. My God, that pepper was powerful. We had to flee the kitchen to wipe our noses and the entire house enjoyed a very sinus-cleansing Valentine's.

Really, I think of this time of year fondly, as a time to enjoy the awesome people in my life and eat a bunch of sweets. My mom always goes out of her way to remind us kids how loved we are, and I try to keep up that spirit now. I like pink foil-wrapped chocolates and hanging out with my friends, not so much the cultural pressure to land a man who will bring me flowers or whatever.

Missoula performance artist and actor Tricia Opstad isn't a fan of the commercial version of Valentine's Day, but she thinks celebrating love is a pretty neat thing to do. "I am in love, in love with the person who is my partner," she says.

The same kind of cautious happiness can be found in her short performance piece, Heart Magnet Ball, which she and Tully Thibeau will perform as part of the extensive VonCommon art collective's First Friday event Love Me, Love Me Not.

Heart Magnet Ball has transformed from performance art to a scripted play to a wordless movement piece that Opstad doesn't want to quite define. For about 10 minutes, she and Thibeau dance, emote and use props to tell a story of two people. Cupcakes will be involved.

In the climactic scene, Thibeau stands a few feet behind Opstad while she winds a rope around her waist. He grabs the end of the rope and pulls her toward him and continues to wind the rope around her. Opstad's character is comforted by being bound in a safe place, but also begins to feel constricted. She spins out and they each struggle for dominance of the rope, wavering between playfulness and seriousness.

Opstad, a limber, athletic woman who works in speech language pathology for Missoula County Public Schools, says she is fascinated by the ways people communicate with their bodies. Even sitting down at a table, she moves her torso and gestures with her hands continually as she talks.

Thibeau, a University of Montana linguistics professor, is tall, muscular and gray-haired. He speaks slowly, answering questions with an intensity that doesn't seem to be a joke.

"I consider Valentine's Day to be what my ex-wife would call a 'Hallmark Holiday,'" he says.

When not rehearsing, Opstad likes to play, grabbing the prop and using it to jump rope, while Thibeau sits expressionless, holding it.

The two aren't a couple in real life, but their characters and interactions remind me of many couples I know who seem oddly matched: She's outgoing and open, he's reserved and seemingly humorless. In performance, Opstad's lightness leavens Thibeau's intensity and fixed stare.

At press time, Heart Magnet Ball hasn't quite been ironed out yet, and the final outcome of the story will be a surprise to the audience and, I suspect, the performers themselves. Love is a mystery like that.

Tricia Opstad and Tully Thibeau perform Heart Magnet Ball as part of VonCommon's Love Me, Love Me Not First Friday show at 127 E. Main Street, Suite 316, Fri., Feb. 1, from 6 to 10 PM. Theater performance begins at 9 PM.

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