The Recent Report of My Father’s Death Was an Exaggeration; or, Jacques Brel Is Alive and Not Well and Living in a Town that Doesn’t Quite Compare, in Most Ways that Matter, Really, to Paris

1) Ben Brantley wrote a review of my sister’s most recent show, The Truth: A Tragedy, which ran at Soho Rep for a few weeks back in May (“Excavating What Dad Left Behind,” 14 May 2010).

Whatever you think of Brantley’s assessment of the show—whether you think it’s a fair, insightful, and useful review or not—I think anyone would agree that his judgment was influenced by a serious misunderstanding of what he saw and heard the night he watched The Truth: he assumed, as did no other reviewer that I’ve been able to dig up on the Interwebs, that our dad is dead. Which (as you most likely know already, since odds are, if you’re reading this, you know me) is not true. Not yet, anyway; he’s died—or come close to dying, depending on where you draw the cut-off line—at least a few times over the past two decades. Which is a critical part of the substance of The Truth—that he keeps not dying.

Brantley’s error runs from the title to the first line:

What do you do with the detritus of your dead?

to this:

Later in the show she will speak of her father’s maddening gift for generating clutter, which seemed to spread like kudzu wherever he lived. Try cutting it away, and it comes back multifold. This organic process has evidently not ended with his death.

to this:

A friend of mine, who hated this show, said afterward, “Well, it sure doesn’t pay to die, does it?” But on the evidence provided by Ms. Hopkins, I think her father might not have minded what she has made out of his life and death.

2) I sent a letter to letters@nytimes.com a few days after the review ran, on Monday, 17 May 2010, noting that Brantley had made a factual error in his review that I thought warranted a correction.

3) Nothing happened. Then the following Saturday, I ran into Lawrence Levi, former New York Times letters editor (and former editor and publisher of the no-longer-extant online journal Flâneur), at our friend Matt’s son’s birthday party. I asked Lawrence if I’d done something wrong, or if he had any other ideas for what else I could do. Lawrence had good advice. Since this was a factual error, he said, I should send it to the New York Times e-mail address for corrections; and since this had to do with a theater review, I should send it to any Arts & Leisure department address I could dig up.

4) I followed Lawrence’s advice. I sent a slightly revised version of my letter to nytnews@nytimes.com, thearts@nytimes.com, and artsleis@nytimes.com on Sunday 23 May. It read:

To the editor:

Re “Excavating What Dad Left Behind,” by Ben Brantley:

In his review of my sister Cynthia’s new show at Soho Rep, Ben Brantley writes that my father is dead. This, as Twain famously put it, is an exaggeration. He is not. He is alive and unwell, living in a nursing home in North Andover, Massachusetts, not far from where Cynthia and I grew up. He is very proud of my sister’s accomplishments, and is delighted to be the subject of her new show.

Thomas Israel Hopkins
Kingston, N.Y.

5) I’m pretty sure I’m remembering the sequence of events correctly here, although I know I could have one or two steps slightly off: On Monday morning, Ben Brantley called Soho Rep’s press rep on his mobile phone to apologize; Soho Rep’s press rep then called Soho Rep’s artistic director, Sarah Benson, who then called Cindy; Cindy told her that she wasn’t reading reviews at all, and didn’t want to have anything to do with the matter, but that Sarah should feel free to call me. Which she then did. Sarah conveyed her and Soho Rep’s apologies for Brantley’s error to me, as she had to Cindy. I told Sarah that I appreciated the thoughtfulness of her call, but that neither she nor Soho Rep had anything to apologize for; nor, really, did Brantley—unless he was apologizing for lost ticket sales from the absence of a rave review from him, due, to some degree, from his having done an arguably imperfect job at his job. I told her that what we were talking about was a factual error, and that what was warranted was a correction, and that if there was anything they could do to help make that happen, that would be great.

6) On Friday of that week, the ’Times ran the following correction (which, obviously, you can now see if you click on the above link to the review itself, which is one of the many myriad beauties of the Interwebs):

A theater review on May 14 about “The Truth: A Tragedy,” a work by Cynthia Hopkins about her father, at SoHo Rep in TriBeCa, referred incorrectly to him. Though the work is presented as an act of grief and mourning, Ms. Hopkins’s father, while elderly and ailing, is still alive. (The error also appeared in a theater entry in the Listings pages last Friday.)

7) If you missed The Truth: A Tragedy in New York City, you can see it at MASS MoCA in early October; check Cindy’s site for details. Cindy also says she’ll be performing the show in Paris next year. (The Truth had its world debut in Lyons this past March, so the sous-titres are ready to go.) I’m guessing there are other bookings in the works as well.

See also: Cindy talking with Annie-B Parson in the summer 2010 issue of BOMB; Cindy talking with Craig Lucas for BOMB’s blog.