Saturday, June 5
Friday, June 4
READER COMMENT: What a piece!
What a piece! Live music, live video, canned video, canned music, techies dancing with the monologuist, an engaging story with interesting twists, eroticism, science (sort of), humor, highly imaginative (and fiendishly successful) integration of all of the above - what's not to like? Entertainment with a capital E. And you even get to contemplate some social issues along the way.
READER COMMENT: Awestruck, alchemy and underwater movement...
Having just seen Accidental Nostalgia I am awestruck at how the elements of the piece were blended in an act of alchemy -- "Cover Me With Your Darkness" might be the greatest music video I've ever seen -- yet either the songs or the narrative could have stood alone. And I was mesmerized by Hopkins' dance elements that were more like underwater movement than slow motion.
Nostalgia and Memory Revision
Before reviewing Cynthia Hopkins’ Accidental Nostalgia I have to own up to a predisposition for musical theater (okay, operetta). I love the form and, combined with the fascinating study of memory, a Southern gothic family drama, and a kick-ass band, it’s hard not to be completely charmed.
And charmed I was throughout most of the three acts. We are taken from a conference presentation on amnesiaS to a homecoming mystery in Georgia (complete with cop chase) to an identity assumption in Morocco. Just as the PowerPoint conceit and clinical terminology of Cameron Seymour’s presentation started to lose me, the darker recesses of mind and past are suggestively revealed in her lyrics. These mysteries drew me into Seymour’s primary research subject: herself and its (re)creation. Like memory, the narrative twists and turns with a dash of revision and just a couple obvious plot devises
Hopkins sounds somewhat like Natalie Merchant, her voice strong and well suited to the alt country songs of Accidental Nostalgia. Her unemotional conference-speak and repetitive gestures are dead on. She’s also a very strong songwriter and the songs seamlessly flow from the plot, propelling it forward. Gloria Deluxe is a perfect partner in this musical landscape; I’m sorry to have missed their performance at the Sunset last Sunday. The transitions between acts showcased their talents and were really enjoyable.
I’m also a big fan of visible stagecraft and OtB’s mainstage shows off the fine work of Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg. Projection, minicameras, as well as live and prerecorded video are all used to great effect, especially to the audience’s discomfort during the hypnosis scene. Findlay and Sugg also complete the cast, backing up on vocals and choreography, and are clearly audience favorites. Despite computer-aided design, the feeling is stripped down and essential.
Which leads me to my only criticism of Accidental Nostalgia: there’s a bit of running around stage business and a postscript letter that don’t feel necessary. I appreciate the costume changes (from the stark, medical-white sterility of the conference to the gray traveling-into-the-past clothes to black Sufi garments of her chosen home), but one or two crosses upstage behind the screen were superfluous. The piece ends with some meditations on family, but I’m not certain a grasp on the past is a gift to the future. Memory is incomplete, and Hopkins could have resisted the temptation to tie up all the loose ends of Seymour’s history.
But that’s my personal aesthetic preference. Accidental Nostalgia is more than a theatrical examination of amnesia, it’s an enthralling musical exploration of identity: remembered, forgotten, assumed and recreated.
Cynthia Hopkins returns to Seattle with ambitious musical piece
Memory, what is it really, and why does the brain choose to remember certain things over others? Cynthia Hopkins dives into the subject matter full force in her new musical piece Accidental Nostalgia. Playing the role of psychogenic amnesiac Henrietta Bill, Hopkins weaves her character through the delicate maze of reconstructing the supressed memories of her childhood in an attempt to discover the truth of her personal history and the mysterious murder of her abusive father; all in the effort of researching the successes and failures of her personal memory.
Henrietta begins her journey as a clinical examination of herself, armed with scientific expertise, reminding the audience in analytical verse of various theories of memory creation and retention (complete with charts and graphs used to great effect!). But it soon becomes clear that this academic exercise is merely a device that Henrietta employs as an excuse to confront her memories and regain a sense of her own individual identity. Whenever Henrietta gets too close to the truth of her past abuse she's allowed to revert to her academic exercise or offer a strong emotional response through song. It's a great dichotomy that director DJ Mendel takes full advantage of throughout the piece.
And then there are the memories themselves, early family interactions, a haunting examination by a therapist, a visitation to her old childhood house which she likens to a Greek Memory Theatre, and the discovery of an old diary that Henrietta can't remember writing. We are engaged with Henrietta, trying to piece together the fragments of her missing life but never really knowing if we've got it right. I don't want to give away too much of the story but I will say that the journey completes itself with a the creation of a new self-help manual for psychogenic amnesiacs entitled 'How to Change Your Mind' written by an obsucure cult musician named Cameron Seymour. The book is based on Henrietta's experiences.
I was introduced to Cynthia Hopkins last year when she did a brief solo stint as part of the On the Boards Studio series. Her voice is strikingly reminiscent of Natalie Merchant, her songwriting is solid; a wonderful mix of cabaret and alt-country with clear pop motives interspersed throughout. Backed by her band Gloria Deluxe, Cynthia uses these talents to full effect in Accidental Nostalgia creating roughly 14 compositions that neither detract nor overpower the storyline but rather strike a wonderful balance between the dueling muses of libretto versus music that all musicals, tone poems, or operas struggle to master.
In addition to writing, composing, and performing the piece, Cynthia Hopkins is also the producer. She's assembled a top notch team of designers, (many of whom have worked with Wooster Group) musicians, choreographer and costumer. The set is highly influenced by previous Wooster Group creations and seemlessly allows the audience to travel to the physical locations with Henrietta as well as witness the visual representaion of her innermost emotions through the use of moving screens, and handheld microcameras. A techies delight! Overall I'm very impressed on Hopkins ability to create and produce this fabulous piece. My hat it tipped to her in this regard!
Accidental Nostalgia is absolutely worth a look!
A New Strategy
Cynthia Hopkins on Forgetting, to Remember
Where is the notebook.
Scribble to remember, patient type.
Get it down.
You sat in the dark and paid, um, attention.
What was it like.
There are hours, nights, when your brain’s gut says Yes.
Yes, and Thank You.
The tangible world may be deeply, indelibly fucked, but we can still talk and listen. And Cynthia Hopkins can sing. Without vocal tricks. Without the little ingénue ruse.
Powerfully, plainly aware.
A writer who happens also to be
very simply & openly beautiful.
When something succeeds, it disappears. You sit in the dark and nod.
Our truest response to mastery is, as it happens, silence.
Standing ovations confuse me.
We are starving for good theatre.
Hopkins is large enough not to get cute.
She gets generous. And precise. And loose. Tight. Laced. Padded. Amplified.
Do not miss this show. Bring someone who thinks like you do, or somewhere close, and who you can talk with afterward.
Go a little early and get a Redhook or some cheap Cabernet and then climb up to a seat in the mainstage space. (The space that never works for anyone. Until now.) It feels tiny, easy, familiar.
Not by accidentally brilliant
Cynthia Hopkins, Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg ‘s performance in Accidental Nostalgia was one of the purest and purposeful pieces of multi-media theatre I’ve ever seen. Nothing was wasted or frivolous. Nothing was done simply for effect. Every camera shot, piece of video, slide, sound cue, choreography moved the narrative along. No opportunity was missed to layer meanings - from the repeated sign language gesture of wagging fingers symbolizing amnesia to the progression of costumes from white to gray to black. But what I really enjoyed was the refreshingly simple use of media. The technical choreography of the performance was just as important and original as everything else.
Accidental Nostalgia tells a good, fun story, there’s plenty of plot tension here to keep you wondering (did she really kill her father). And it’s told wonderfully through playful, soulful song and dance. Cynthia’s voice is charming and has clear depth. I could say she’s a cross between Ani deFranco, Lucinda Williams and Natalie Merchant but I hate it when the reviewer has to rely on citing other artists to describe such a unique voice. Cynthia takes brave risks vocally, traveling outside her natural register and going for it. She fronts a four member onstage band and performs a wide range of ballads, tangos, blues, alt-country twang. Sometimes the music is carny/teatro/gypsy-esque but it was solid enough to stand alone. As my date said: “I’d buy the album.” And it doesn’t hurt at all that the band swings.
But if all that marvelous stagecraft, raw and refined talent and musicianship wasn’t enough, the subject matter proved plenty evocative. The exploration of amnesia raises so many good questions –Do you choose who you are or do you just react to your circumstances? Do you go forward or go back? Can you choose?
It was around the fourth song (“Cover Me with Your Darkness”) that I was totally hooked. On the overhead projector a diagram of the history of the blues is revealed in tempo to the music. Then a map of the main character’s self analysis of why she is attracted to abusive men also joins the screen. The patterns are of course the same when laid one atop the other. Such wonderful literal and figurative symbolism all set to a lovely country ballad. “Cover me with your darkness so the light won’t show my sense."
Sometimes from the audience I can only absorb the impact of a couple things at a time – what the actor is saying, what mood the music sets, what conspires between lights and movement to reveal a new interpretation of what’s being said. But when the performance sparks a memory of my own, then the piece has concocted an elixir beyond the sum of its parts. I drop the thread and go someplace else. This happened to me during the sixth song “If you’re going through hell keep going.” Who hasn’t experienced some kind of physical abuse at some point in their lives, however fleeting, merely glancing blows or profound prolonged and damaging? These abusive experiences we process until we either accept them and move on or repress them and, she’s right, it’s a certain scent or a unique touch that triggers the memory. As we grow up, we compensate for what was taken. When we’re children, however, we think that the only way out is to try to become invisible. So why not learn how to change your mind or disappear completely and become someone else?
The final number, a duet with her daughter, demands special mention. Here Cynthia character is completely redeemed. She does it by singing in harmony with a video image of her daughter (played by delightfully talented Maria Ventura) while accompanying herself on the accordion. It’s a selfless act of love.
I was charmed and energized by the performance, and found myself feeling a bit nostalgic for my own old traumas, now so shopworn that they’ve lost their bite, or so I thought.
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About BLOG THE BOARDS
Who better to write about what happens at On the Boards than the people who support and attend our performances? Making art is part of a dialogue between artist and audience, and so we've created Blog the Boards...
About OUR BLOGGERS
We are pleased to have Beth Brooks, Rebecca Denk, Allen Johnson, and Rob Knop, as our guest BLOGGERS for Cynthia Hopkins' performance.
About CYNTHIA HOPKINS
Biographies and history of Cynthia Hopkins and her band Gloria Deluxe.
About ACCIDENTAL NOSTALGIA
Brooklyn singer-songwriter Cynthia Hopkins was motivated to write her new piece, Accidental Nostalgia: An Operetta on the Pros and Cons of Amnesia because she suffered from amnesia as a child after her mother’s death from cancer. Accompanied by her live band Gloria Deluxe, Hopkins brings her breakthrough performance to On the Boards for three nights, June 3-5, 2004, on the heels of its March premiere at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn.
links for Cynthia Hopkins