By Amber C. Nore
“Behind every great man, there is a great woman.” We all have heard the idiom.
I know that you, just like me, have gazed at the iconic paintings of Edward Hopper such as “Nighthawks,” “Chop Suey,” “Automat,” or perhaps even the piece at The Sheldon Art Museum, “Room in New York.” It is easy to get lost in his art, despite its initial apparent simplicity. You may not, however, know a thing about Hopper’s talented wife and muse, Jo.
The new play “Jo: Not Just Mrs. Edward Hopper” by Norman Simon, is an hour-long one- woman show that takes us into the studio shared by the Hoppers as Jo contemplates honoring her late husband’s wishes that his work be given to the Whitney Museum of Contemporary Art. We, the audience, get to see a glimpse into the private lives of these two artists.
Josephine “Jo” Verstille Nivison Hopper was a painter who studied under Robert Henri and Kenneth Hayes Miller. She won the Huntington Hartford Foundation fellowship in 1957. In 1924, at the age of 41, she married Edward Hopper. We learn that she was an avid student of the arts, foreign languages and even spent time as an actress. She called her paintings “her children” and continued to paint throughout her life, even as her husband eclipsed her work into a shadow. She served as his model and guide, as well as naming many of his famed pieces.
I was enchanted by Pippa White’s excellent portrayal of Jo. Her energy and charm bounded into the rafters as she regaled the audience with stories of her life married to a famous artist. No subject is taboo: we listen to the good and the bad, the racy and the mundane. There were numerous costume changes as she illustrated the posing behind the artistic masterpieces. Especially impressive to me was the work of Mr. Simon, a longtime member of the Angels Play Writing Collective, as he wrote the show entirely from a woman’s perspective. And how well he did!
Directed with absolute perfection by Judith K. Hart, the entire show was captivating from start to finish. The stage was well decorated and provided room for a large projection screen in which images of Hopper paintings were projected to coincide with the stories being told to us about them by Jo. Occasionally we hear the voice of Edward Hopper call from offstage as he directs Jo to pose this way or that. It all comes together so beautifully!
Angels Theatre Company continues to weave its magic of providing our community with exceptional original pieces of theatre utilizing our local talent. Whenever I attend an Angels event, it’s as if I am being transported to a secret salon of artistic excellence….like a seat at Dorothy Parker’s round table. Yet I am right in my very own town. This weekend’s production is no exception and I cannot encourage you fervently enough to attend.
A different idiom now comes to mind: “Behind every great woman… is herself”
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