It's difficult to blame artists for finding the story of Lucia Joyce compelling. The daughter of James Joyce spent most of her life languishing in mental institutions, the promise of her father's genius never fully realized in her. What glorious opportunities for exploring the lines between sanity and madness her life story affords!
Lucia's saga has previously inspirited books and stage adaptations, and is now receiving another one at HERE, Cara Lucia, written and directed by Sharon Fogarty. As a director, Fogarty's work is brilliant, capturing - with set and light designer Jim Clayburgh and projection designer Julie Archer - the infinite possibilities of untapped human creative zeal, visually expressing the irrepressible desire to live up to one's forebears and expectations.
Fogarty the director has created almost a flawlessly fluid stream of consciousness, or perhaps unconsciousness; Cara Lucia finds Joyce's life passing right before her eyes, as if at the instant of her death. Fogarty has created a theatrical "book of the dead," explained in the program note as a book created by each person in Ancient Egypt to help guide them through the afterlife. Fogarty's book for Lucia Joyce interweaves modern and classical elements to create less an accurate depiction of life than a representation of one life's building blocks.
When, for example, Lucia recalls her younger, happier days a dancer, it makes sense that the stage explodes in dance, or, as her madness increases, her connection to reality - and even gravity itself - becomes so tenuous that she and the various set pieces threaten to fly away. Fogarty also utilizes singing, Egyptian imagery, disembodied mouths and faces, wisps of readings in foreign languages, and distortion of the air and water to represent Joyce's life, and as long as she's representing, she succeeds beautifully.
But while Fogarty's work as director could not be better, her work as playwright leaves a great amount to be desired. Stretching perhaps fifteen minutes of material over seventy-five minutes, Cara Lucia steadily becomes more tortuous as it attempts to become more clever and insightful. Fogarty is apparently unable to determine when a point has been made in the direction and does not need to be made again through dialogue (or vice versa), so a fair amount of time is devoted to repetition and even more devoted to depictions of events the show never makes emotionally relevant.
This leaves the two actresses playing Lucia (Ruth Maleczech as the older, infirm version and Clove Galilee as the younger) somewhat at sea - they can't make us care about them. Fogarty's writing demands such a detachment from the audience, their characters seem superfluous, fancy set pieces and vehicles for assisting Fogarty's visual expression, but never human beings on their own terms. A third character, Issy, played by Rosemary Fine, is more interesting only because the derivation of her name is the focus of an intense discussion late in the play. Were it not for that, she would be as impenetrable as the others.
It's understandable that Fogarty could bite off more than she could chew, though it doesn't make Cara Lucia any more fulfilling - the lack of wit and a single, easily-definable objective prevent that. But as a strictly theatrical exploration of the possibilities of life and death, it's often enthralling, and suggests plenty of marvelous things from Fogarty in the future. A master technical manipulator, Fogarty seems to instinctively know, when using her constantly-moving set pieces and scrims, what to physically hide and reveal. Extending the same knowing omniscience to her dialogue would be a great benefit to her, Cara Lucia, and the entire theatrical community.