Olwen Fouéré stands quietly in the front left corner of the stage. Without saying a word, she exudes a sense of peace, patience, mindfulness and awareness as she watches the audience enter. When the lights go down, she slowly and deliberately begins to move, takes off her shoes and settles to the front of the stage with a presence that keeps everyone quiet and engaged for the next 70 minutes. In this strange but mesmerizing adaptation of James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake”, Fouéré portrays the sense of a river by personifying herself as Anna Livia Plurabelle.
The language is often baffling, more batting around words and phrases in a flowing stream of sound, that sometimes register and has meaning, but at other times is nearly incomprehensible, a befitting tribute to J. J. whose work was notoriously impenetrable. Totally nonlinear and with no clear and distinct message, her text has been described as experimental and evokes cadences of memory like bits of poetry. More performance artistry then story-telling, her style is celebrated as intoxicatingly beautiful, a linguistic experiment. When she moves, she’s mesmerizing, undulating like the river, perfectly balanced on one leg in a crane yoga poise, and constantly gazing with an all encompassing look that seems to envelop the entire theater.
closes May 26, 2016
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The piece unfolds in distinct scenes, portraying loss, sadness, humor, and always nuggets of memory. Sound and lighting designers play important roles in establishing the scenes with precision and gracefulness. Her vocalizations capture the rhythm and energy of nature, including storms that start off like distant thunder and then increase in volume enough to rumble the house. At one point, she holds, even squeezes, her face between her hands, and the stark lighting gives the illusion that her head is detached from her body as she continues to spout sentences and phrases in staccato bursts. In another scene she swings her jacket like a human windmill revealing how the floor is covered in a thin layer of special salt that dusts up and changes design with every performance.
riverrun is a challenge for the faint of heart who must be anchored in a traditional story, and it can feel like an experiment gone wild, but the capable heart and hands of Olwen Fouéré help grapple with even James Joyce. For those who were fortunate enough to catch her in the Shakespeare Theater Company’s Salomé by Yaël Farber last year, lucky you.
Olwen Fouéré is a rare talent who goes beyond script and text by showing what can be done with the power of being. riverrun is a stretch, but it’s worth it.
riverrun . Adapted, co-directed, and performed by Olwen Fouéré . Co-directed by Kellie Hughes. Sound Designer and Composer, Alma Kelliher. Sound engineer Benny Lynch. Lighting Supervisor, John Crudden. Costumes by Monica Frawley. Production Manager Rob Furey. Producer Jen Coppinger. Executive Producer Padraig Cusack. Stephen Dodd . Presented by The Kennedy Center as part of the Ireland 100 Festival . Reviewed by Dennie Minter Jackson.