Saturday, 9 May 2015

Lucia's Chapters of Coming Forth By Day

'Bad news, I'm dead!', says Lucia Joyce (Maria Tucci) in the opening scene of  'Lucia's Chapter's of Coming Forth by Day'. This latest Wake inspired play, by the New York theatre company, Mabou Mines, has been brought to my home town as part of this year's Brighton Festival. I went to see it at the Theatre Royal on Thursday.

It's written and directed by Sharon Fogarty who, like Olwen Fouéré in her play riverrun, has been inspired by the parallels between Finnegans Wake and the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The original title of this guidebook to the afterlife was 'Chapters of Coming Forth by Day'. The Egyptians saw death as the beginning of a long journey through a dark and dangerous underworld, which would end with them 'coming forth by day' into a new life. Joyce associated this with what happens to us every night when we sleep, and so Finnegans Wake, a night book, is full of echoes of the Book of the Dead.

The play places Lucia in the afterlife, with her own personal Book of the Dead. But she's also metaphorically dead because she's spent almost fifty years in mental institutions. There's a strong sense of entrapment. She's unable to escape from the institution and from the shadow of her famous father, James Joyce (Paul Kandel), who appears for most of the play in silhouette behind a screen. The men she falls in love with, such as Samuel Beckett, are more interested in her father than in her. She is frustrated in love and in her attempts to express herself as an artist. 

Lucia was silenced in life and even after death, when her nephew destroyed all her letters. So the play, like Carol Loeb Schloss's biography, Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake, is an attempt to give her back her voice.
There's wonderfully atmospheric music and sound from Carter Burwell, who scores the Coen Brothers' films, and dynamic visual projections on multiple screens by Julie Archer. At one point Lucia is completely engulfed in projected text. Jim Clayburg has designed the set with a cantilevered chair, on which Lucia sometimes takes off, swooping through the air.

The play was originally created as a collaboration with the late Ruth Maleczech, who, according to Fogarty, was 'a fierce and defiant Lucia with a Vesuvian anger simmering away.' You can see from the trailer on Vimeo that she was also very funny. Maria Tucci gives us a more fragile and child-like Lucia.

The text includes quotations from the Wake, reflecting Lucia's state of mind. At one point, the whole stage is lit up by flashes of lightning and, in a rage, Lucia shouts out the mighty thunderword from the book's opening page:


Maria Tucci and Paul Kandel as Lucia and James Joyce, from the theatre programme

In my favourite part of the play, Joyce comes out from behind the screen, to deliver to his daughter the lovely lyrical passage in which Nuvoletta, the cloud girl, falls to earth as a drop of rain:

'Then Nuvoletta reflected for the last time in her little long life and she made up all her myriads of drifting minds in one. She cancelled all her engauzements. She climbed over the bannistars; she gave a childy cloudy cry: Nuée! Nuée! A lightdress fluttered. She was gone. And into the river that had been a stream (for a thousand of tears had gone eon her and come on her and she was stout and struck on dancing and her muddied name was Missisliffi) there fell a tear, a singult tear, the loveliest of all tears (I mean for those crylove fables fans who are ‘keen’ on the prettypretty commonface sort of thing you meet by hopeharrods) for it was a leaptear. But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping as though her heart was brook: Why, why, why! Weh, O weh! I’se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!' 

The last line here is spoken by Lucia.

This feels like a description of Lucia, with 'all her myriads of drifting minds'. But, although she was a model for Nuvoletta, Joyce wrote this passage in 1927, three years before his daughter became ill. Joyce believed that Finnegans Wake had the power to predict the future. Had he predicted Lucia's illness here? 

At the time, Lucia was 'struck on dancing'. She was making a career for herself as an avant-garde dancer in Paris. Here she is dancing at the Bullier Ball in Paris in 1929, when the audience shouted, 'Nous réclamons l'irlandaise!' (We're calling for the Irish girl!)

She's wearing a shimmering silver fish costume she made herself. 'It was in silver sequins edged with green. One leg was covered to the heel and the other came right through the costume, so that when she put one behind the other, she created the illusion of a fish tail. Green and silver were entwined in her hair.' James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett, p 110.

Lucia also speaks the Wake's ending, as Anna Livia, the river Liffey, flowing out of Dublin to unite with her father, the sea.

'And it’s old and old it’s sad and old it’s sad and weary I go back to you, my cold father, my cold mad father, my cold mad feary father, till the near sight of the mere size of him, the moyles and moyles of it, moananoaning, makes me seasilt saltsick and I rush, my only, into your arms.'

Spoken by the dead Lucia Joyce, with her father standing beside her,  this passage takes on a whole new meaning.

This was the very first time that Tucci has performed the role and the production was a little unsteady on opening night. But what a thrill to hear again the words of Finnegans Wake spoken on stage.

Andrew Kay, critic of the local listings magazine, Latest 7, wrote that it made him rush home to download the book!

The best thing I've read on Lucia is Joan Acocella's  'A Fire in the Brain: The difficulties of being James Joyce's daughter' in the 2003 New Yorker.

RTE have also made an excellent documentary about her, which you can listen to here. The radio documentary, like Carol Loeb Schloss's book and the Mabou Mines play, claims that Joyce's linguistic experiments were inspired by Lucia's fractured language. In fact, he'd been writing the Wake for seven years before she became ill. Her breakdown was one of the factors that triggered his own writing block in the 1930s when, as he wrote, 'the words came out like drops of blood.'

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