Spotlight: Must Don't Whip 'Um

Alex Wright

It might be an oversimplification to divide humanity between those who trust the veracity of memory and those who view their own narratives as something more mutable and ambiguous, but as oversimplifications go, it's pretty compelling. Two years ago, Cynthia Hopkins dove into the deep end of such notions with Accidental Nostalgia in the Walker's Out There series, and the reception was so positive that the Walker commissioned this world premiere. Must Don't Whip 'Um is a prequel to the events of Accidental Nostalgia, which depicted an amnesiac trying to uncover both her identity and the culpability of others in making her who she ended up being. This new show depicts pop singer Cameron Seymour in her final concert before she disappears and leaves America to join a Sufi community in Morocco (personally, I'd opt for something that promised a bit more low-down fun, but different strokes make the world go round). The production is sort of credited (in Brooklyn/downtown NYC fashion) to the collective Accinosco, but Hopkins's songs and writing are the driving force here. Her music is frequently, numbingly described as "alt-country," a term just about ready to be put out to pasture ("post-roots," anyone?), since her sound invokes blues, vaudeville, and (what the hell) Weimar cabaret in equal measure to country twang. She's also a complicated and magnetic stage personality, and this show draws upon design from Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg to incorporate video footage, faux documentary, and a general post-modern sense of image and reality clanging together in a search for transcendent insights. I took in an hour of rehearsal for Must Don't Whip 'Um the week before Christmas, and amid the usual minutia and repetition, Hopkins seemed like an artist determined to use the artifice of her work to strip away the masks of the mundane and reveal something larger than herself. In other words, it's interesting to pretend to be someone else—especially when that person is more real than the one we're already pretending to be.

 
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