Cynthia Hopkins in The Truth: A Tragedy
(© Thierry Chassepoux)
Cynthia Hopkins in The Truth: A Tragedy
(© Thierry Chassepoux)
The Obie Award-winning performer, composer, and writer Cynthia Hopkins comes to Soho Rep with The Truth: A Tragedy, an engaging, bizarre, and occasionally unsparing work about the recent death of her father, John. Simpler in size and scale than her previous show Accidental Trilogy, which ran at St. Ann's Warehouse over several seasons, this new work is a collage of memories of her father that plays like a post-modern, solo chamber piece.

Hopkins wears those memories, almost literally, on her sleeve, before casting some of them off, peeling away the layers in a quest to understand the enigmatic man who gave her life. In her skirt of neckties and her whiteface makeup, she almost seems to want to exoticize him at first. (The production design and direction were led by Hopkins' frequent collaborators, Jeff Sugg and DJ Mendel, respectively.)

And John is indeed a colorful character, a "fool in a Shakespeare play," according to his daughter. He's the kind who would write a musical about suicide, choose as its title a folky euphemism for testicles, and premiere it with a group of grade-school students at the Massachusetts day school where he taught. Yet, ultimately, this man is extraordinary in ordinary ways. "The nature of my father's tragedy is partly that it is not legendary," she says.

As with most of Hopkins' shows, it's set to an eclectic variety of music, ranging from the "Dies irae" of Verdi's Requiem to the old folksong, "English Country Garden," to Hopkins' own complex, Joni-Mitchell-flavored, indie-folk compositions.The only problem with the original numbers is that the performer sings them herself, often-times outside of her vocal comfort range. Only a shanty towards the end, accompanied on the accordion, is delivered in Hopkins' beautiful lower register.

What ultimately lifts the performance away from unremitting bleakness is Hopkins' humor. Don't go seeking comfort. But she will make you laugh, no more so than when she discovers, underneath her father's stubborn sloppiness, a wily principle of "anti-organization." Or when she, impersonating him, gets continually ambushed by a piano lid.

One should arrive early enough to view a lobby exhibit, put together by Tom Fruin and Billy Burns, which collects photos, drawings, and other personal effects from John Hopkins' life and displays them as curiosities. Curious he may have been. But the apple didn't fall far from that tree.