Musical imagines outlet for James Joyce’s institutionalized daughter

The Connecticut College Departments of Theater and Music present “James Joyce Is Dead and So Is Paris: The Lucia Joyce Cabaret,” a rock ‘n’ roll cabaret that’s “unlike any musical you will have experienced,” according to the director.

The story spins off a sad truth: Lucia Joyce, the daughter of novelist and poet James Joyce, was an accomplished dancer who studied with Isadora Duncan, but was eventually institutionalized because of her schizophrenia. The musical is set in the mental institution, where Lucia has put together a rock band with her fellow patients. They perform songs about her life, her love affairs, her parents, her struggle with her own genius and her ultimate incarceration.

“It is a very scary and wickedly funny show, because it acknowledges how we may readily and willfully crossover from genius to lover to madness,” said director Ken Prestininzi, associate professor of theater. “It is a cabaret act and a rock musical. It is ‘bad girl’ rock. And yet the music and lyrics are very piercing, tender and spiritual at the same time. It is not afraid of raw emotion, yet keeps a check on false sentimentality. It's also full of wit and charm and sly humor musically.”

Prestininzi describes Lucia Joyce as a thwarted genius, lover and competitor, who gets one night to act on her fantasy of putting on a rock cabaret that will change how the world perceives her and her right to make art on her own terms. That latter desire was well understood by the production team behind Connecticut College’s performance of the musical.

“We were interested in its innovative, up- to-date style of theater-making,” said Prestininzi. “We were interested in the looseness in the poetry in the text that demanded us to re-imagine the characters in individualized ways particular to this cast, versus being imitative.”

Almost all 16 characters are on stage at all times, which demanded a creative process that would unify and centralize the ensemble. The process succeeded, according to Prestininzi, who called the performances great and inspiring, exuberant, daring and beyond easy categorization. Much like the show itself.

“Lucia Joyce was said to be an artist who had a ‘fire in her brain,’” he said. “This musical takes that idea, that we all might play with the fire in our brain, and what will we make if we do, and what will we burn to the ground?”

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 27, and Saturday, Feb. 28, with matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, March 1. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $8 for students — they can be purchased at the door before the performance or in advance by calling 860-439-ARTS (2787).

February 19, 2015