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The Ghosts Next Door

September 13, 2017 5:00 am0 commentsViews: 15
Photo: Brad Fowler/Song of Myself

Photo: Brad Fowler/Song of Myself

by Steve Desroches

With the ongoing show The Hoppers: Edward and Josephine Hopper from the Permanent Collection at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum that features the large, recent acquisition of the two artists’ work, it seemed a “no brainer” to revive Hopper’s Ghosts, says playwright Kevin Rice. First performed at the Payomet Performing Arts Center in North Truro in 2010 and again in 2011, where Rice is artistic director, the play comes to the Provincetown Theater as the town is in the midst of “Hoppermania.” Two celebrated artists, with Edward being considered one of America’s best, the couple spent almost 40 years in their Truro home before their deaths in the late 1960s, a year apart from each other. The fascination with their work and their lives continues to grow both here on the Outer Cape and beyond.

Rice, whose wife Marla owns and operates the Rice Polak Gallery in Provincetown, became particularly interested in couples where both are artists: the compromises, the competition, the disagreements, the discoveries. All the aspects of a marriage or partnership, but in the pursuit of vision and creation have created some spectacular narratives of love in a time of art. The Hoppers seemed the perfect subjects to explore how a couple manages their individual lives as artists. As he researched the couple he first spoke to those who remembered the Hoppers, over the years finding that this giant of a duo kept rather quiet and secluded lives in their Truro home.

“They kept to themselves,” says Rice. “They were very reclusive. Edward was known to go to parties and just sit there and not talk to anyone. They were not warm people. They may have only gone to get a meal. But Truro is proud of them, but not in a warm and fuzzy way. Often people come to Truro to hide. It’s not Provincetown. They were not looking for a scene, they were looking for a retreat.”

Photo: Brad Fowler/Song of Myself

Photo: Brad Fowler/Song of Myself

Hopper’s Ghosts, a fictional tale that presents the couple in the afterlife, stars Elizabeth Bell as Jo Hopper and Robin Bloodworth as Edward and is directed by Margaret Van Sant. While the Hoppers had a tempestuous relationship that sometimes resulted in violence from both, says Rice, the play also delves largely into the comedic aspects of their life together. Rice is particularly interested in the sacrifices Josephine made for Edward, wondering if he would have become the success he did without her support and what would have come of her own career. Edward was known to fall into deep and long bouts of depression, which Josephine often guided him through. The two were also on the rather conservative side and could often be on the edges of the fringe they found in their Greenwich Village home and in neighboring Provincetown when they were in Truro.

The two drew and painted many familiar architecture and buildings from Orleans all the way up to Provincetown over the four decades they came to Cape Cod, making the region so influential on artists that themselves would go on to be so celebrated. Much of Edward’s work explored themes of loneliness, despair, and isolation, even when the work was set in a city, like his famous painting Nighthawks. And the two were firm in their artistic views, which were very traditional and conservative, rejecting abstract expressionism and other “new” forms of art, says Rice. This lends itself to much comic relief throughout Hopper’s Ghosts in a funny juxtaposition putting leading artists in the position of being a bit confused, or even behind the times, despite their obvious success.

Photo: Brad Fowler/Song of Myself

Photo: Brad Fowler/Song of Myself

While diving into the lives of the Hoppers Rice stumbled upon several surprises, including that for several years neighboring teenagers spending the summers in Truro would stop by the Hoppers’ home. One such person was a young Roy Scheider, who would go on to star in such films as The French Connection and Jaws. While the Hoppers could appear to be a bit cool and aloof, they apparently took a liking to the young man, as they often invited him in for cookies and tea. Through his play Rice strived to show these two characters as complete people, full of very real complexities, to help better understand them as a couple and as individuals, and in turn, give a new perspective on how their work was created.

“The dynamics of this couple are fascinating,” says Rice. “When the play was first staged it was such a success, and now with the show at PAAM this run is off to a great start. The Hoppers really seem to be such a source of fascination for many out here.”

The Payomet Performing Arts Center presents Hopper’s Ghosts at the Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St., Thursday, September 14 through Saturday, September 16 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, September 17 at 3 p.m. Tickets ($28/$20 for students, teachers, artists, and PAAM members) are available at the Provincetown Theater box office and online at payomet.org. For more information call 508.487.5400.