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.

Me Playing Guitar on Radio David Byrne

(Ten-year-old Web site birthday week catch-up post, five of five.)

The Radio David Byrne playlist for the month of February, titled “Sharing Is Caring,” includes seven of Cindy’s songs: four tracks from Gloria Deluxe albums (one from the eponymous LP, three from Hooker), plus three from Devotionals (Songs for Shunkin).

I played on “Little Piece of Grace” and “Such a Long Time”; I also sang on the former. (Hooker, like this Web site, turns ten this year. Have you listened to the record lately? I think it’s holding up really well.) As you’ll see if you link to Byrne’s site, only the current playlist streams, but the archive includes links for buying the individual MP3s.

As you’ll know already if you’re on Cindy’s mailing list, her new show, The Truth: A Tragedy, is having its international debut the last weekend of March at Les Subsistances in Lyon, France; the American debut will be in May at Soho Rep.

At the moment, the copy for the Les Subsistances Web site page about Cindy’s show begins “Attention : découverte !” I think it would be marvelous for the French to discover her work. I’m hoping that would make her the Jerry Lewis of cabaret-twang performance art. Which might be fitting, since the show, I believe, draws heavily from the world of stand-up comedy. Which I’m hoping might also mean money. Good old-fashioned old-world old-school support-of-the-arts money. Which would be awesome.

As you may also know, the show is largely about our dad.

You Have One Day Left to Help Cindy Get to Scotland

…I think.

What Cindy’s e-mail from last Wednesday said: “We need to raise $5,500 by July 15th – that’s 6 days away, folks!”

What the “Accidental to Edinburgh – PHASE 1: REBUILDING THE SET” page of the Accidental Nostalgia Kickstarter site says: “This project will only be funded if at least $10,000 is pledged by Jul 15, 02:59am.”

Which is less than 36 hours away. Now, what I don’t know is this: If they don’t actually get another four grand in between now and the wee hours of Wednesday morning, will they actually not be going to the Edinburgh Fringe? I hope that’s not the case. But will it be enormously, hugely helpful if they do get that money? I’m assuming yes.

I love the countdown. And I don’t envy Cindy and Jeff and co. the stress of it being their countdown. But from the outside there’s something exciting about it.

It’s like Risky Business, except starring Tom Waits. Or The Blues Brothers, starring Laurie Anderson.

Surely there is someone in the world with a spare thousand tax-deductible dollars who wants to hear John Hodgman sing Gloria Deluxe on the phone to him or her?…

In any event, John Hodgman is not just an astonishing writer, he is a stalwart and righteous human being.

The Cynthia Hopkins Songbook

(Catch-up post, three of five.)

Summarizing the news in the most recent Gloria Deluxe mailing list announcement (which you may already receive in your inbox?); some amazing stuff:

1) A clip from the new show on YouTube.

2) This coming Saturday (the birthday of Matthew Broderick and Bridget Jones): a work-in-progress showing of the new show at MASS MoCA.

3) Next Friday: “The Cynthia Hopkins Songbook” at Joe’s Pub. Would you look at the list of special guests? I mean, we’re talking about a MacArthur recipient and Pulitzer winner singing Cynthia Hopkins. The living, breathing embodiment of the personal computer, the personal computer in human form, singing Cynthia Hopkins. New Yorkers: this is not to be missed.

4) April: the world premiere of the new show at the Walker.

5) May: the New York premiere of the new show. This, too, is not to be missed, of course; but you have many more opportunities not to miss it.

Ljubljana, Zagreb, Kayrol Island

(Catch-up post, four of five.)

Good Gloria Deluxe-related things I’ve not yet mentioned in this space:

1) Must Don’t Whip ‘Um had performances last Tuesday in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and last Saturday and Sunday in Zagreb, Croatia.

2) The album of the show is now available for purchase online.

3) Cindy has a song on The Music of Jason Crigler: the last track on the record, “My Alien Friend.”

4) My brother-in-law and Jim Findlay (Jeff, Jim, and Cindy are Accinosco) won a Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Scenic Design, won an Obie for Scenic Design, and were nominated for a Drama Desk for Outstanding Projection and Video Design for their work on Ben Katchor and Mark Mulcahy’s fantastic The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island: or, the Friends of Dr. Rushower.

Hopkins and the Warhol

Accidental Warholia! If you live in Pittsburgh, or will be there this weekend, or live within a thousand miles of the city (especially if you’ve never seen the show before, or have only heard the songs in their recorded form on the completely stunning album, etc.), you should really go see Cynthia and the band performing Accidental Nostalgia, presented as part of the Andy Warhol Museum‘s Off the Wall 2007—two shows only at the New Hazlett Theater, Friday and Saturday nights. (Details on the Warhol site, here; on the New Hazlett site, here.)

Accidental Ohio

For anyone reading this who lives in Columbus, Ohio—or, for that matter, anyone within two days’ drive of Columbus—you really, really should go see Accidental Nostalgia at the Wexner Center this weekend. Have you seen the show yet? Do you realize how good it is? You know it won a Bessie, right? In addition to my sister’s first Bessie, as well as her two Obies? (If you can’t make it to the show, you should 1) e-mail all your Ohio friends about it, and 2) buy the album, if you don’t own it already, because holy crap, it’s so damn good. I’m biased, but I’m not kidding. Apologies to those of you who’ve been listening to me ask this question over and over again for the past six years, but how do you let people know about something that’s so damn good in a room of people screaming about so-damn-goodness? This is something I’ve never quite figured out.)