Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Literature? Music? Drama? Something between? Neal Kosaly-Meyer performs: Finnegan’s Wake (Part One, Chapter One), the Stage Play? (12/13/14)

Litesout. All begain in darknews and sighlands. Mr. Meyer approached the stage, removed his (stylistically suggestive of James Joyce) hat, and donned an ecclesiastical vestment (hand-made by Karen Eisenbrey). He spun a huge rainbow-colored drum, then removed from it a newly-made ancient manuscript (in Celtic uncial lettering) which he placed on the floor, then hung on various racks around the stage. Riverrun, the words were intoned, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

A flashlight stabbed into the dark. Brief illuminations of other pages of calligraphy. Slowly at first, then gathering speed, Joyce’s poetic stream of (un)consciousness was recited. The dreamscape unfolded. Sobs they sighdid at Fillagain’s chrissormiss wake, all the hoolivans of the nation, prostrated in their consternation, and their duodismally profusive plethora of ululation.

This way to the museyroom. Mind your hats goan in! Much of chapter one of the Wake consists of short sketches of places or characters. These are fragments of memories from the edges of sleep; they contrast with the denser, more opaque wordstrings later in the book and the obviously dreamlike images from the subconscious that emerge in the middle. This particular section, the Wallinstone/Willingdone Museum, presents a set of increasing absurdities, all introduced with “This is –” and separated by “Tip!”, which Mr. Meyers rendered in a comical falsetto, his own sound effect as punctuation. This way the museyroom. Mind your boots goan out!

The (usually) subtle sound design, by Jake Thompson, was as much a part of the performance as the words and the setting. There were four microphones, each beneath one of the racks on which to hang the calligraphic manuscript; each provided an understated manipulation to the sound of Neal’s voice. One microphone was suspended over a grand piano with the damper pedal stuck down, to create reverberation by sympathetic vibrations. (Two more obvious alterations were signaled by the flashlight turned off and on quickly twice. One of these was a cascade of echoes that occurred, fittingly, with “So this is Dyoublong? Hush! Caution! Echoland! How charmingly exquisite! It reminds you of the outwashed engravure that we used to be blurring on the blotchwall of his innkempt house.” The other bounced the voice from side to side, foreshadowing the conversation between Mutt and Jute that would occur a couple of minutes later (Neal did this conversation in two stage-voices that traded places somewhere in the middle, and with the flashlight illuminating calligraphic pages of the character’s names.)

Though the entire first chapter was presented from memory (the “manuscript” only contained a couple of words), the point was not a feat of memorization (though it was that, even if some plays are longer) but that the Wake can also be seen as a piece of music. Neal’s program notes commented on the musicality of the words, and the aforementioned sound effects provided contrasting “movements” of a longer whole, a large-scale minimalist composition. There was an actual sonic climax with the tale of Jarl van Hoother and the prankquean. So her grace o’malice kidsnapped up the jiminy Tristopher and into the shandy Westerness she rain, rain, rain. And Jarl van Hoother warlessed after her with soft dovesgall: Stop deef stop come back to my earin stop. But she swaradid to him: Unlikelihud. As with most of the Wake, this passage could be analyzed endlessly for its wordplay: the pun on “rain” and “ran” (and “reign”); the reference to Tristam Shandy; the fact that a “dovesgall” with a voiced G could sound softer than a “dove’s call” (which would be soft anyway), though “gall” adds a bit of sarcasm. But the reason for this to begin the loudest part of the performance isn’t the wordplay; this a gripping moment (however obscure the actual narrative) – there is action and violence; an edge of nightmare in the dream, contrasting with the more psychological explorations elsewhere. (Another passage in a similar vein is the Humpty-Dumpty-like fall near the beginning, though this is actually the beginning of something that plays out over the entire book.)

So, in the end, was this literature, music, drama, or all of the above? Answer: Yes. It is what you make of it. Seen as literature, it is tribute to one of the most magical and mysterious texts in the English language. As music, it joins the long list of compositions (by John Cage, Toru Takemitsu, Samuel Barber, Stephen Albert, and many others) in homage to the Wake. As drama, it adds yet another dimension to Joyce’s already multidimensional work. Literature, music and drama are all richer for it.

This is the first of a Finnegan’s wake project, to be performed, one every year, for seventeen years …in lashons of languages …sober serious, he is ee and no counter he who will be ultimendly respunchable for the hubbub caused in Edenborough.

Oh, and yes, these framing quotations aren’t actually in the book. Liteson. All enned in brightnews and sighlance.