Sunday, February 05, 2006

Remembering to Forget: Cynthia Hopkins Memorable Accidental Nostalgia

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Cynthia Hopkins in Accidental Nostalgia
Photo by Paula Court

You could spend a few days trying to figure out exactly what to call Accidental Nostalgia: an operetta about the pros and cons of amnesia. It doesn’t fit a template we know or recognize. Imagine an alternative country musical/scientific paper presentation, personal video landscape and you are still not close. Accidental Nostalgia, written, composed, and performed by Cynthia Hopkins, deals with nuances of memory, and amnesia. The scientific aspect to the program was not only fascinating but accurate. To thicken the plot, the main character, Lyn Seymour, (played beautifully by Hopkins) suffers from amnesia herself— a fact that renders the story difficult to decipher yet wildly entertaining.

Hopkins, with her puckish charm, looks and sings like an angel. Think Annie Lennox, but sweeter with more depth. She seems as comfortable lecturing on the intricacies of the brain as she does belting a heartfelt tune while playing her accordion. Her alternative country band, Gloria Deluxe, accompanies her on journey through neurons, a motor cortex run amuck and even all the way to Turkey to discover her past. To make matters weirder her tale involves her life as a runaway, abuse victim, role changes, and victim of mistaken identity. The highly melodic score created a surprising contrast to an otherwise unpredictable performance.

The style of the piece is breathtakingly original. Performed on a makeshift scaffold with the band stage left and the multi-purpose tech/video crew (who also line-dance) stage right, the piece has a rough hewn quality. Almost like it all might fall apart any minute. In fact, some of it did in one scary technical glitch. An enormous video screen shifts between interior viewing of the brain, an anatomical chart, and footage of personal adventures.

Hopkins, a two-time Obie Award winner and Bessie Award recipient, is one gorgeous performer. What ever she is doing and regardless of what she calls it, she is, for certain, pushing for a new theatrical form. So far, it’s working. Accidental Nostalgia proved the edgiest event on the SPA stage we’ve scene in years. Hopkins’ opus points towards the deeply subjective nature of memory. In doing so she’s created a performance you will never forget.