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Paulanne Simmons

"Must Don't Whip 'Um" Is an Edgy Triumph

Photo by Pavel Antonov

Must Don't Whip 'Um
Written and Composed by Cynthia Hopkins
With Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg
Presented by St. Ann's in association with Accinosco
St. Ann's Warehouse
38 Water St. in dumbo Brooklyn
Opened Jan 17, 2007
Wed. thru Sun. 8 p.m.
$26 (718) 254-8779 or www.ticketweb.com
Closes Feb. 4, 2007
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Jan 19, 2007

Cynthia Hopkins is one of those artists whose work delights and mystifies at the same time. Her newest creation, "Must Don't Whip 'Um," now at St. Ann's Warehouse, is part documentary, part concert, part memoir. It features Gloria Deluxe, a band equally at home with rock, funk and jazz; and video that's used not only creatively, but also meaningfully. And it's quite wonderful.

Hopkins, who lost her own mother at a young age, seems to devote much of her creative energy explaining and exploring this kind of loss. In "Must Don't Whip 'Um" Mary Fern, the narrator, revisits the last concert her mother, singer Cameron Seymour, gave before she disappeared.

Many reasons have been given for this disappearance, a few of which are revealed through taped interviews. Some say Seymour ran away with her Moroccan lover. Others say she was a victim of the C.I.A., which had fingered her because of her Sufi beliefs. Still others maintain she was never a very good singer in the first place and left the stage because she was a failure.

"Must Don't Whip 'Um" was created in collaboration with designers Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg, two members of Accinosco, a collective of performing artists, designers and musicians who meld music, text, technical design and video. It is from this group that the actors and musicians in Gloria Deluxe are drawn. But the lyrics for the ten songs in the show are almost entirely by Hopkins.

Photo by Pavel Antonov

Hopkins's songs have a lyricism and tongue-in-cheek humor that reminds one of the Beatles at their best. They have titles like "All the Pretty Crosses" and "The Teaches of Leeches." When Hopkins runs out of words, she borrows from worthy mentors as in Leonard Cohen's "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in."
"Must Don't Whip 'Um" is a busy and outrageous work. The musicians are on a raised platform. Sometimes they are behind a scrim, sometimes not. The video screen is made of several window shades. The goings-on backstage are visible through a sliver of space. At times the audience sees a performer from one angle onstage and another angle on video.

The performers are dressed in layers of clothing that includes long vests, capes, chains and various head coverings, one of which seems to be a tambourine. Sunglasses go on and come off. And does Carmen Seymour sport a painted moustache?

But if this chaos, it is chaos guided by some divine hand. If the show never stops moving, it also never stops being moving.

"Must Don't Whip 'Um" is relevant on many levels: political, personal, artistic. It's the kind of experimental, edgy theater this reviewer would like to see more often onstage.

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