Cynthia Hopkins at Soho Rep

Tuesday night took us to Soho Rep to see Cynthia Hopkins’ new piece The Truth: A Tragedy. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure out what I thought about it. I enjoyed watching it and I have continued to think about it long after its over. I don’t know if “enjoyed” is the word…It troubled me. For those of you who have never seen Cynthia Hopkins, she is a writer, composer and performer of unique and distinctive talents. Her voice is powerful and uncanny and her musical style is inimitable. She brings the full force of her talent and imagination to bear upon the current work. And yet there was something about the show that was so raw that it was almost difficult to watch.

The Truth: A Tragedy is a deeply personal account of Cynthia’s father’s decline and demise, a pastiche of scenes from a death and a life interspersed with songs and stage tricks. It is at once startlingly intimate and eerily distancing. It is one of those works that the creator had to make in order to process a life-altering and world-shattering event. At the same time I’m not sure how well it succeeds on its own as a piece of theater. It feels a little bit disjointed and ramshackle. Which may be an intentional choice, given the subject matter.

Basically the show – and the accompanying installation which is a “curiosities museum” created from the detritus of her father’s life – is a memorial. And how can one criticize another’s grief? I left the show with an understanding of Cynthia’s love for her father but even with the overwhelming evidence of this man’s life literally at hand, I never felt for him. Maybe I’m just a cold, callous, unfeeling bastard, but I felt removed from the proceedings, like there was an unbridgeable distance between the performer’s hermetic world of loss and my own experience. That being said, at the end of the show, I felt moved to call my own parents  and make sure they were okay.

And perhaps that is what makes it a tragedy – not compassion necessarily but fear that this will happen to you; that Parkinson’s and old age and debilitation could and can and will happen to everyone we know and love, that all of life comes to this grand nothing.

The Truth: A Tragedy is a difficult show to watch but ultimately it is rewarding, if for no other reason than it reminds us of our own mortality; that it makes loss visceral and true.

It is interesting, and certainly accidental, that this show explores themes also presented in Soho Rep’s last outing, Young Jean Lee’s LEAR. For a generation that has demonstrated such tortured ambivalence about growing up in general, it seems fitting that the loss of a parent should be treated with equal ambivalence.

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