Weaving personal stories into elaborate tapestries of fiction is a well-known artistic choice: Plato had Socrates, Gertrude Stein had Alice B. Toklas, and Cynthia Hopkins has Cameron Seymour. For the past four years, Hopkins has been performing a “trilogy” of pieces under the guise of Seymour in a subtly veiled attempt to unpack personal issues (the first song of the first performance was titled “Outrun Your Demons,” complete with awesome musical saw). And while creating an epic series of musical performances for this purpose may seem over-indulgent, megalomaniacal even, the beauty of the performances—Accidental Nostalgia, Must Don’t Whip Um, and now The Success of Failure (or, the Failure of Success)—including the quirky and beautiful music by Hopkins, incredible video and sound design by Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg, and baroque fictionalization, allow almost any audience member to become deeply involved with the character; and in the process, perhaps even discover something about personal demons.
Which is exactly why I’m still not sure how I feel about the final installment of the trilogy. The premise includes all the signature elements of Hopkins’ performances; in this case, the B-sci-fi exploits of Ruom Yes Noremac, a piggy-nosed starfighter in the distant future (but not so far away) who is sent to destroy an invading force in the form of I.L.U.C., the Intergalactic League for Universal Consciousness, of course, who for mysterious reasons is trying to destroy the fading sun of Earth.
In the meantime, Ruom ruminates upon whether the Earth is even worth saving, in a facile-sci-fi-allegory manner. Space wars, phasers, and Star Trek diplomacy ensue. And this is only the first act.
I’m loath to reveal the peripeteia of the second act, as the shock of it gave it much of its potency and punch. (Isherwood had no problem spoiling the fun—you can read it here if you like.)
My main issue is that Hopkins veers dangerously close to the self-indulgence she has gracefully elided in the other pieces and her music. Part of it is personal, that I put just as much stock in Hopkins’ habit of tapestry weaving, but part of it is that The Success of Failure is, ultimately, clunky, particularly compared with its predecessors. And while the B-movie aesthetic allows for this clunkiness, the second act seems to be just as hammered together as the first, which leads me to wish some editing and trimming had been done to make the acts blend a bit more—not together, mind you, but within themselves. It would have totally eliminated any issue I take here. Nevertheless, what Hopkins does is incredibly brave, strangely endearing, and, yes, quite quite beautiful.
But because I’ve been a part of the Seymour epic over four years (witness my mild obsession here and here), I totally went with it, loved it even. (A well-placed Muppet reference doesn't ever hurt, either. Take note, fellow artists!) My fellow theatre-goers who weren’t familiar with Hopkins’ work assured me it was still enjoyable, even without my fictional projection and attachment. It’s still wonderful to enjoy Hopkins’ buttery alto voice, marvel at Findlay’s and Sugg’s designs, and enjoy the glorious destruction of a beloved franchise.