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Reviewed by:
  • The Success of Failure (or the Failure of Success)
  • Judy Bauerlein
The Success of Failure (or the Failure of Success). By Cynthia Hopkins and Accinosco. Directed by D. J. Mendel. Walker Art Center, McGuire Theatre, Minneapolis. 16 April 2009.

Seven years ago, writer, performer, and composer Cynthia Hopkins set out on a quest to research and investigate herself. In the process, she created a stunning body of work titled Accidental Trilogy, a three-part multimedia music/theatre event including Accidental Nostalgia (2005), Must Don’t Whip ‘Um (2007), and The Success of Failure (or the Failure of Success) (2009). Hopkins’s primary methodology in making the trilogy was to spin the truth of her life into a luminescent “fictional” mythology. Success, which premiered in April at the Walker Art Center’s McGuire Theatre in Minneapolis, is by far the most structurally risky of the three pieces, but includes the same intelligent and rigorous storytelling, ethereal music, and savvy integration of imaginative low-tech/high-impact design. Working with her longtime collaborators Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg, under the direction of D. J. Mendel, Hopkins (who writes and composes all the songs) concludes the trilogy with a story of transcendent faith, masterfully examining her own mortality as it parallels her quest for spiritual enlightenment. Throughout the trilogy, Hopkins employs a neo-Brechtian performance style that is informed by the postmodern traditions of the Wooster Group and Richard Foreman; yet in Success, Hopkins also plays with the tradition of direct-address, confessional solo performance. Full of self-reflexive humor, synergistic trajectories, inspired observances, and absolute forgiveness, Success is the antidote to all that has ailed our constant heroine for the past decade.


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Cynthia Hopkins (as Ruom Yes Noremac) in The Success of Failure. (Photo: Paula Court.)

The three parts of the trilogy are centered thematically on the adventures of Cameron Seymour, who appears in all three of the pieces, albeit in varying forms. In Accidental Nostalgia (a travelogue that mixes Southern Gothic music with a lecture on human memory), a young runaway, Henrietta Bill, assumes the identity of Seymour before she joins a Sufi brotherhood; in Whip ‘Um (a 1970s rock concert/lament), a rock star, also Seymour, is the subject of a documentary film; and finally, in Success, Ruom Yes Noremac (Cameron Seymour spelled backwards) is a drunken spaceship mechanic who is enlisted to save the world. They represent different parts of the same person—Cameron Seymour—and, as we learn in the latest installment, Seymour represents Cynthia Hopkins. As the trilogy develops, the themes grow outward in concentric circles, from tragic personal loss in Accidental Nostalgia to the larger issue of human evolution in The Success of Failure, yet Hopkins manages to weave these disparate themes together with idiosyncratic humor and pathos.


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Cynthia Hopkins (as Ruom Yes Noremac) in The Success of Failure. (Photo: Paula Court.)

Set in both the distant future and the present, Success has two parts. The first is a science-fiction adventure story in which the earth is billions of years old, human beings vanished long ago, Druocs (who succeeded humans) live beneath the Earth’s surface, [End Page 467] and the sun’s power is nearly exhausted. Ruom Yes Noremac, a pig-faced, chronically depressed and alcoholic Druoc, is charged with saving the Earth by reigniting the sun with a hydrogen bomb. Ruom—newly and unwillingly sober—is propelled into space, where she fails in her mission. Instead, she experiences enlightenment, ultimately sacrificing her own and the Earth’s survival for the greater good of the universe. Inspired by the writing of Buckminster Fuller and Stephen Hawking as well as Carl Sagan’s documentary Cosmos, part 1 of The Success of Failure features an intergalactic gunfight and a gravity-defying Ruom crooning a love song dedicated to the Earth. The first half of Success retains many of the savvy design techniques used in Accidental Nostalgia and Whip ‘Um. The designers (Findlay and Sugg), working with spy cameras and video projections, are visible throughout the first part of the show. In contrast to the first two parts of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-332X
Print ISSN
0192-2882
Pages
pp. 467-469
Launched on MUSE
2009-11-15
Open Access
No
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