Edited By Ruben Moi, Brynhildur Boyce and Charles Armstrong
Brian Friel’s Performances: Meaning in an Intermedial Play
When Brian Friel’s Performances opened at Dublin’s Gate Theatre on 30 September 2003, first audiences, it seems, were left somewhat perplexed by the play’s lack of plot and dramatic action and its wide-open, indeterminate ending.1 This may have been because Performances is unlike most others in the playwright’s canon. In a departure from Friel’s other original plays, Performances is not set in Ireland. Thus, it might be fair to speculate that the play’s ostensive subject matter did not quite fit with audience expectations. Perhaps this first audience had anticipated some of the more familiar (Irish) themes and situations akin to the previous commercial and critical ‘hits’ of Ireland’s leading contemporary playwright: the same kind of themes that have also provided rich fodder for scores of scholarly studies on the various historical, cultural, linguistic and political dimensions of the works. Indeed, the scant critical writings on Performances to date also betray a sense of discomfiture when attempting to situate the play in the wider context of Friel’s oeuvre. Because at first glance Performances, it seems, is concerned with one thing: music – a particular piece of music, to be more precise. But Performances is not just about music: it contains a performance of music, and the point where dramatic text crosses with music effects an aporia which, rather than arrest an engagement with the work, opens up for a playful plurality of possible meanings.
This essay will attempt a hermeneutical exploration of Performances, a play which, on the...
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