A thick Irish drawl echoed through a darkened Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts Wednesday night, when Oscar-nominated actor Stephen Rea gave students and Fairfield residents a literary treat, reading selected works of Irish literature. Rea brought to life passages from James Joyce’s short story “The Dead,” from “Dubliners,” a spirited section from his epic “Ulysses” and the writings of Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney and Derek Mahon.
In an exclusive interview with The Mirror, Rea said Joyce was “the turning point of the 20th century fictional writing.” Joyce, he said, had the amazing ability to “transform language, and he does it all with immense compassion for the characters.”
As a young man discovering Joyce, Rea said, “I thought I was Stephen Dedalus, you know.”
Rea’s voice seemed to invoke the spirits of Irish history as he read the poem “A Disused Shed in County Wexford” by Derek Mahon. An eerie silence filled the room when the poem concluded with the lines, “You with your light meter and relaxed itinerary, Let not our naive labours have been in vain!” and an audience entranced gave pause before applauding.
“Many in attendance probably know of Rea’s illustrious film career, but many may not have been aware of how central he is in Irish drama, and how respected he is within the literary world,” said Associate Professor of English Dr. Nels Pearson, who had the pleasure of hosting Rea in his Joyce class earlier that day. With the exception of Joyce, all of Rea’s readings were from “writers whom Stephen has worked with and known personally.”
After the reading, the lights came back on and Rea opened up for a Q-and-A from the audience.
Junior Eileen Harris asked Rea about his process in coming up with the many voices and accents for his readings. “Well you know I live in Dublin and you know Dublin is full of people like that […] always bantering.
“But really, to be honest, I just start and see where it goes and if I concentrate I get the right voices at the right time. It’s no huge secret. It’s fun though, isn’t it?” said Rea.
“He’s clearly a very eccentric person,” said Emma Christensen ‘17, commenting on his bright green shoes.
Senior John Driscoll said, “It was great to hear Stephen Rea talk about Joyce’s ambition with respect to the Irish language and the English language and making the English language his own.”
“When he was reading from portrait of an artist it was just great to hear Joyce out loud from someone who really can articulate it well,” said Danielle Levangie ’14.
Pat Gannon ‘17 said, “I first thought it started a little slow but then towards the end when he was reading ‘Ulysses’ I thought he did really well.”
The event was sponsored by Fairfield University’s Program in Irish Studies, The Humanities Institute of the College of Arts and Sciences, The Writing Center, Theatre Fairfield, The Department of English as well as The Cities events focus and the Westport Country Playhouse.