Friday, June 15, 2007

Life with Father

tell me all about
Lucia Anna! I want to hear all about Lucia Anna.
Tell me all. Tell me now. You'll die when you hear. Well, you know, when the old chub went futt and did what you know. Yes, I know, go on. Tell me all about Alice and Ada and Fanny and Clara too. Tuck up your sleeves and loosen your talktapes. And o yes Cosima and Eva two no wait forget about THEM!

Okay, okay, you get the idea. If you're like me, that famous pyramidal paragraph was as far as you got in Finnegans Wake before skipping ahead to the ravishing babble of the River Liffey. Those durabelle moments, after all, are what everyone loves about Master Joyce's lasterpiece - a wild attempt to commodiously recirculate all the world's language and myth into an occihystorical knightbook of Death and res-errection (there I go again - I'm beginning to see why that logorriver ran over sex hoondred pages). Of course we've all been trained to bow before Sham and Shaun and Here Cummz Everypun, etc. - but we only adore that pale soft shy slim slip of a thing, Anna Livia Plurabelle.

But who's really behind those lovely, impacted rushes of feminine song? For years we might have assumed Joyce's wife, Nora, but lately post-feminist interpreters have excavated the sad history of Lucia Joyce, the lonely, promiscuous daughter (at bottom right, in a family photo by Berenice Abbott) - whom James himself once described as the inheritor of his genius - and begun edging her out of her long-acknowledged role in Finnegans (as goddess-daughter "Issy") and more to center stage.

Alas, after dabbling in dance and free love - Samuel Beckett was one rumored recipient - Lucia slid slowly into instability (no doubt being dumped by Beckett will do that to you). She was institutionalized at the behest of Joyce's son (after she attacked Nora), and was ministered to by Jung himself - but after her father's untimely death, poor Lucia remained institutionalized (and forgotten) until her own death decades later. But during the construction of Finnegans, Joyce seems to have looked on her decline almost as raw material - which either intrigues or disturbs you, as the case may be - and her ramblings and inspired "portmanteau" words are credited as a major influence on the novel's collective-stream-of-unconsciousness style.

Of course this opens the door to Lucia's canonization in the sisterhood of suppressed muses who may (or may not) have been the true inspiration for various geniuses (move over Fanny Mendelssohn, Alice James, Ada Lovelace, et. al.). Or, on the other hand, Lucia may also be responsible for making so much of Finnegans Wake incompresensible (and thus frighting editors from later mammoths like Gravity's Rainbow and Giles Goat-boy). To me, you should be able to take your pick of these interpretations - but recent ham-handed attempts by the Joyce estate to control (some have said even destroy) Lucia's and Joyce's private papers have turned the situation into a minor cause célèbre, and now the venerable Mabou Mines theatre troupe has developed yet another mournful, multi-media performance, Lucia's Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, to insinuate, but never quite insist, that this abused Anna was the true spring of the River Liffey.

In the end, as you might expect, Lucia's Chapters (which seems to be a revision of an earlier work, Cara Lucia) isn't so much a play as a thesis, and theses tend to make me sleepy. So I'm afraid I drifted during a few stretches of Mabou mainstay's Ruth Maleczech's monologue (don't worry, much of it was repeated - and her occasional screams, coupled with the Charlestown Working Theater's Irish-rectory seating, kept me awake). I admit that Maleczech (at left) was in solid form, however, from her calm opening announcement of her own death (the conceit of the text, by director Sharon Fogarty, is to structure itself á la the Egyptian Book of the Dead, itself an influence on Finnegans) to her final dance - or descent - into the sparkling Liffey. In between, of course, her addled, curious, sexualized-yet-infantile perspective was haunted by the literal shadow of her mad old feary father (Paul Kandel, a physically plausible "Mr. Joyce"), while we were haunted by the incipient shadow of cliché.

The psychosexual mood of Fogarty's script (which I get the impression has been tightened and de-jargonized since its last outing) feels a bit dated in that downtown way (of course, Joyce and Jung do, too), and the whole modernist Beckett-goes-to-the-movies "environment" was likewise predictable. Still, it was elegantly rendered (on a shoestring, no doubt, at CWT), and Julie Archer's projections were lovely and evocative. The evening's best moments, indeed, depended on the overlay of live performance with projected images, be they the snow-laden branches of a Hokusai (oh, don't ask why), glittering ripples in the Liffey, or steadily encroaching columns of text (which Lucia eventually haunted).

Still, whomever one credits for these tableaux (director or designer), visual metaphor alone does not a full performance make, whatever the Mabou Miners think. And Fogarty's text, perhaps out of a subconscious will to always sympathize with Lucia, never dramatizes the harrowing episodes of conflict and misbehavior (on both sides) which might have gripped us. At least for this viewer, murmured hints of repression and Daddy's dark side - which may (or may not) have included actual incest - don't cut it. Without anything in writing, it may be time to close the book on Lucia's Chapters.

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