By Alexis Soloski, 18th September 2014
James Joyce’s last recorded words as he lay dying in Zurich in 1941 were, “Does nobody understand?” If Joyce had his “Finnegans Wake” in mind, probably not. One of the most famously difficult works of 20th-century prose, the novel is a linguistic mash-up of slang, pun, poetry and nonsense.
Don’t expect much illumination from “riverrun,” an agile and gnomic solo show by the Irish performer Olwen Fouéré presented at BAM Fisher part of the Next Wave Festival. With a title taken from the first line of “Finnegans Wake” and a monologue spun from the speeches of the character Anna Livia Plurabelle, a living embodiment of the River Liffey, the hourlong piece animates and activates the text without making much sense of it.
The Liffey is a shallow waterway yet not so easy to fathom. Ms. Fouéré is a versatile actress with a mobile face and a malleable voice. Sometimes, she growls low, sometimes she soars high, sometimes she mimics the singsong tones you can hear on a 1929 recording of Joyce’s reading of that section of the novel. In her trim gray suit, with her long white hair pulled away from her face, she cuts an androgynous figure, both playful and imposing.