Angels Theatre Company has an exciting new play in rehearsal. Jo, Not Just Mrs. Edward Hopper will open at the Sheldon Museum of Art, March 29 – 31, 2019. It is a new work by Lincoln playwright, Norman Simon. Judy Hart is producing/directing, and Pippa White is portraying Josephine Nivison (Mrs. Edward Hopper) in the debut of this one-person play.
Appearing Locally was able to score an exclusive interview with the playwright and the star as they delve into this impressive new piece.
Norm, why did you write this play?
I had been attracted to Edward Hopper’s paintings from the first time I saw one decades ago at the Whitney Museum. It was this attraction that led me to a biography: Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography by Gail Levin. What a surprise to learn that Hopper had a wife who was both model and muse, and played an outsized role in his life and his painting! She was a painter, too—her career fatally thwarted, she believed, by him, by the Whitney and by the artistic establishment of the time, which had no brief for female artists. In some sense her life was an ongoing conflict between her nurturing of a dismissive Hopper and her own ambitions as an artist. This is the story I wanted to tell in the play.
Pippa – what is it about Josephine Nivison that appeals to you?
Josephine Nivison Hopper was a complicated but fascinating woman. She was a talented artist, she was beautifully educated, she was courageous (volunteered to go to Europe in World War I to work with wounded soldiers), and she was spunky and outspoken. The combination often proved to be too much for her talented, well-educated husband. Life with Edward Hopper had advantages and disadvantages for Jo. Despite her energy and her spirit, and her valid feelings of self-worth, there is a tragic side to the life of this woman, who gave up a great deal to be a wife. All of this makes Jo a very appealing character.
Norm – What do you want audiences to know about Jo & Edward from this production?
I never thought of this play as educational or instructive. I was interested in Jo as a character whom I wanted to bring to life. I suppose that the most surprising thing that I myself learned is that she was the model for virtually all of his paintings.
Pippa – tell us a bit about your experience with one person shows.
As an 8th grader at Herbert Hoover Junior High School in San Francisco, whenever we had to do a speech in English class (which was fairly frequent as I remember), I donned a hat, became a character, and gave, not a speech, but a monologue. Lucky for me, I had a supportive English teacher who let me take a few liberties with the speech assignments. But this got me used to performing alone at an early age, and I have never been particularly afraid or uncomfortable in that kind of theatre. This is why I turned to solo performing in the 1990s. It seemed to be a good way to have a theatre career, even if I wasn’t in what we call a great “theatre market.” I found that the world of history offered an inexhaustible supply of good dramatic material, and in designing my own one-woman shows, I got to play all the parts!
Norm – what would you like other playwrights to know about creating work based on real people?
The Jo of the play is a fictional character. Any attempt to describe someone’s life is always fiction in some sense. Experiences are left out, juxtaposed, emphasized or downplayed. Even Jo’s diary excerpts (quoted in Levin’s book) provide merely a narrow window into her thoughts. Still, in reinventing Jo for the play, I felt constrained not to wander too far from the historical Jo, as portrayed in Levin’s book and by Jo herself in the diaries. That being said, another playwright working from exactly the same material might well have come up with a very different play. As in any work of fiction, the personality, beliefs and experiences of the writer are what gives shape to the material he or she chooses to treat.
Pippa – do you see a future for this play beyond the Lincoln performance?
Yes, indeed. Wherever there are Hopper fans, or museums with his works, there will be interest and an audience
About Angels Theatre Company
The Angels Theatre Company creates engaging theatre to foster community partnerships, social awareness, and change. Angels Theatre Company nurtures and celebrates theatre artists while engaging our community in quality live theatre.
Angels Theatre Company is committed to improving the quality of life in our community:
- By celebrating the work of the playwright and theatre literature through exposure, development, and production.
- By educating, training, and supporting local theatre artists.
- By honoring diversity in our artistic explorations.
- By drawing focus to the work of women theatre artists whenever possible.
As always, if you liked this content, be sure to join the Appearing Locally email list (on the right side of your screen) and like us on Facebook!