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The Success of Failure

Cynthia Hopkins' new performance piece is undercut by the artist's need to explain everything to the audience. logo
Cynthia Hopkins in The Success of Failure
(© Paula Court)
Artists are often asked to talk about what inspired them to create their works. But while the answers to such questions can be informative, they don't necessarily make for great theater. A case in point is Cynthia Hopkins' The Success of Failure (Or, The Failure of Success), now at St. Ann's Warehouse. What starts out as a promising and even entertaining evening becomes bogged down with Hopkins' need to explain everything to the audience in a manner that undercuts the effectiveness of her own performance.

The piece is structured in two parts, with the first half being a sci-fi tale peppered with whimsy and humor. Set in the far future, the main narrative of this section focuses on Ruom Yes Noremac (Hopkins), an alcoholic space pilot sent on a mission to save her race from an attack by the Intergalactic League for Universal Consciousness (or ILUC for short). However, her leaders may have been deceiving her as to the ILUC's true intentions.

While the actual storyline is admittedly hokey, the staging is quite beautiful thanks to director D.J. Mendel and a terrific design team led by set, video, and production designers Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg, who also perform in the piece. One of the highlights is when Hopkins is literally lifted into the air, spinning around in slow motion as if moving in zero gravity.

The other crucial component to the performance is the music composed by and sung by Hopkins. While it could loosely be categorized within an indie folk pop genre, it also has operatic components and Hopkins' vocals have a haunting and ethereal quality.

After the space adventure comes to its conclusion, Hopkins comes out and delivers an exposition-heavy explanation of what brought her to this point, outlining the various autobiographical connections to her performance art trilogy (of which this is the final installment). And the piece just comes to a thudding halt. There may be a therapeutic aspect for Hopkins in sharing details of her mother's death from cancer, as well as her own struggle with alcoholism. But the arc of this segment follows a rather predictable pattern of addiction, realization, relapse, and recovery.

Luckily, Hopkins has the sense to include a few more songs along with her narration, and demonstrates her facility on a number of instruments, including the accordion, keyboards, and both electric and acoustic guitars. The musical numbers break up the monotony of the lecture format she adopts -- complete with diagrams and slides -- which is heavy-handed and liable to induce boredom instead of rapt attention.

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