"Hopper's Ghosts" comes back to haunt us
By: Jeannette de Beauvoir, August 23, 2011
courtesy Kevin Rice - Caitlin Langstaff and Stephen Russell play out the tortured marriage between Jo and Edward Hopper with a comedic touch.
If you’re like me, then you probably still cling to the fantasy that people who produce stunning art, moving literature, or exquisite music should also have special lives. That they should be great. Or, at least, that they should be nice.
Kevin Rice’s play Hopper’s Ghosts, which opened last week at Truro’s Payomet Center for Performing Arts, is here to remind us, once again, that it ain’t necessarily so.
Edward and Josephine Hopper are dead. That fact is specifically stated at regular intervals throughout the play, and is emphasized with frequent time references. (“What time is it now?” “1940.”) This device allows room for the characters and the audience to look back together over the decades of Hopper’s stunning career—and less-than-stunning marriage.
But death has done nothing to improve the couple’s outlook on life—or on each other.
Billed as a comedy, Hopper’s Ghosts is at best a dark one, reminding the audience that what one doesn’t see is far more important—and, Rice would argue, interesting—than what is on the surface.
The dialogue is witty—if at times a little repetitive. As one of the characters points out, there’s a fine line between teasing and sadism, but both Edward and Jo cross that line over and over again, in grooves that become familiar as the play goes on.
A tortured affair
That they torture each other is clear from the beginning. In the very first scene, Jo makes Edward meow like a cat in order to grant his wish for something to eat. The cat theme returns throughout the play, and every time it does, one cannot help but cringe a little.
Jo’s frustration at having abandoned her own artistic career to become subsumed in Edward Hopper’s life comes out as a passive-aggressive stance, using a technique of withholding from him as her only source of power.
But Edward is far from a misunderstood doormat. He’s very clear—and very cruel—when it comes to assessing Jo’s own paintings.
And yet every time he’s mean to her, she comes back with an anguished, “Don’t leave me!”
Ask the folks at Independence House, who deal every day with the reality of domestic abuse, if this doesn’t sound familiar.
Each character has its strengths. Edward’s occasional soliloquies are as resonating and spare as his paintings. Jo’s schizoid ramblings are quick-fire and clever, often manic. The only time she’s not talking is when she’s offstage, leading one to agree with Edward when he bursts out with an anguished “can you please be quiet?”
Indeed, there were many moments in which, had she not already been dead, I’d have been more than tempted to kill her myself.
A bittersweet release
Jo, whose duties as a wife included working as Edward’s unpaid model (she later presents him with an invoice) is also obsessed with the “other woman” modeling for him (who may or may not actually be her).
“Who is she?” she demands at regular intervals. “Who is the object of your desire?”
Yet when she complains that none of their life together has been about her, he seems troubled.
“You had a life in the hills of Truro,” he says. “None of it was possible without you.”
Actors Caitlin Langstaff and Stephen Russell are well cast in the piece. Her energy is infectious, and his dour you-can’t-make-me-crack-a-smile façade works well.
There’s a somewhat gratuitous flash-forward to 2011 (“What are they building over there?”), which garnered a lot of laughter from the Truro audience; it seemed that perhaps they’d been waiting for that sort of outlet.
And yet it’s a bittersweet release; at the end of the night, one is left with what Edward calls a “map of lost moments.”
A comedy by Kevin Rice exploring the lives of Ed and Jo Hopper
Directed by Allen Kennedy, featuring Stephen Russell as Edward Hopper and Caitlin Langstaff as Jo Nivison Hopper
Thurs-Sun, Aug 18, 19, 20, 21 & Thurs-Sat, Aug 25, 26, 27 @7:30pm, with the exception of Saturday Aug 27 @5pm.