Performed in the round, with the washerwomen describing a circle of wet rags on the perimeter of the stage, and the characters moving in diametric pairs, orbiting the central figure of Anna Livia, the fluvial mother, the female life force, visually expressed the cyclical motif at the heart of the work. Anna Livia’s speech, while cataloging rivers from around the globe, was accompanied by a soundtrack of original music composed of audio loops, at the same time, discrete portions of her lines were electronically sampled and repeated. Whether reflecting Campbell’s universal heroic cycle, the circadian rhythms of sleep, or Christian and eastern philosophical concepts of death and rebirth, Mouths Making Water portrayed the literal sense of revolution in Finnegans Wake.
Ultimately, the goal was to make some sense of the text and present it in a manner that made Joyce’s book comprehensible to the uninitiated, to present a primer of a deeply complex and rewarding novel. Recognizing that Joyce was an acclaimed singer, a musical aficionado, and, by the time he crafted his final words, practically blind, and therefore writing primarily for the ear, suggested that privileging the role of rhythm and sound in the language was the key to performing Finnegans Wake. As a review of the first production described Mouths Making Water: “Rather than try to make Joyce’s impenetrable text accessible for simple meaning, the actors performed the lines as poetry, accentuating the musicality and hidden emotion of the book. The effect was quite hypnotic. The disciplined ensemble movement and use of sound added to the sense of a dense voice poem coming vividly to life in an entrancing theatrical ritual.”