- June 16 is
the holiest day on the Irish literary calendar. That's the day (and
night) that Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus journey their way
through Dublin in James Joyce's epic novel "Ulysses."
has spawned an academic industry that probably ranks second only
to Shakespeare. Joyce set the action in the year 1904, which means
that this is the 100th anniversary of the narrative (the novel was
published in 1922). Joyceans throughout the cultural world are celebrating
the anniversary, a ripe time for the world premiere of "A Dublin
Bloom" by the Irish Repertory.
the events in "Ulysses" on the 19-year wanderings of the
Greek hero Odysseus after the end of the Trojan War as recorded
by Homer in "The Odyssey." But familiarity with "The
Odyssey" is just the beginning of comprehending the Joyce novel.
Scholars have noted that to get a decent grasp on "Ulysses,"
the reader should be steeped not only in Greek mythology but in
Roman Catholic theology, Irish legend, European history, and languages
like Hebrew, Latin and Gaelic.Stream-of-consciousness style and
you have a book that created enormous controversy for its alleged
obscurity. And then there were the charges of obscenity that led
to the banning of the novel for a time.
"Ulysses" for the stage is a daunting task, though it's
been attempted in the past decades, notably an off-Broadway drama
called "Ulysses in Nighttown" in 1958. Dublin playwright
Dermot Bolger has successfully carved out a portion of the novel
into "A Dublin Bloom," aided immeasurably by a splendid
production by the Irish Repertory.
employs 19 actors to play dozens of roles as we trace the troubled
wanderings of Bloom and Dedalus through Dublin that typical June
day. The adaptation follows the scheme of "The Odyssey."
Each scene with its modern and ancient Greek parallels is listed
in the playbill. But unless the audience is fully versed in Homer,
the scenic breakdown will mean little.
has a reputation of being a difficult book, the
writing is often extremely realistic and detailed. From scene to
scene the play is easy to understand. It's connecting the individual
components that may cause problems for the audience. But the play
has a cumulative force, and by the end of the evening attentive
spectators should leave the theater satisfied that they have enjoyed
a full and accessible dramatic experience.
under Matt O'Brien's creative and sympathetic directing, flows from
scene to scene much like the book. The basic storyline follows Leopold
Bloom, a mild mannered Jewish advertising salesman, as he moves
through Dublin's streets and pubs. The younger Dedalus is a dissatisfied
writer, lumbered with an unhappy teaching job and a burden of a
father. It's a portrait of a searching and uncompromising artist
trying to find his way.
Bloom is the
eternal outsider, isolated from the Irish mainstream in Dublin by
anti-Semitism. He's a diffident man with slightly kinky
sexual tastes, unable to satisfy his lusty and unfaithful wife Molly.
long monologue is a central part of the novel, and its sexual explicitness
got Joyce in trouble with the censors. The play divides the monologue
into segments, but the play ends with Molly, reclining on her bed
as she's been throughout the play, lyrically delivering her musings
about her courtship and marriage to Bloom.
The play is
filled with comic moments and colorful Irish characters
like Blazes Boylan and Buck Mulligan and Bella Cohen, the brazen
madame of a local brothel. The language is rich in poetry and Irish
blarney and many of the scenes are tumultuous in their action. This
may not be the definitive adaptation of "Ulysses." The
novel is too expansive and complex to be nailed down to any single
stage version. But it gives audiences, scholarly and novices alike,
a fine sampling of Joyce's masterpiece in a legitimately dramatic
does a superior job of inhabiting the Joycean menagerie of characters,
though occasionally the Irish accents muddle the dialogue. Will
Clinger is outstanding as the self effacing Leopold Bloom, in his
dress suit and bowler hat and mustache, looking a little like Charlie
Chaplin. Andrew Carter is likewise excellent as the discontented
Stephen Dedalus. The difficult role of Molly Bloom falls to Laura
Scott Wade, who renders the final monologue beautifully, though
Wade is a bit
young for the role (Molly and Leopold have a 15 year-old daughter
and Wade looks to be in her mid 20s).
actors are all first rate, with pride of place
perhaps going to Gary Houston and Scotty Rowe for their especially
fluid handling of the language. Alexandra Billings makes
a feisty impression in her cameo as the pungent Bella Cohen.
earns high marks for her costume designs that vividly re-create
the look of Dublin's lower and middle classes 100 years ago. The
remainder of the design corps consists of Jaymi Lee Smith (lighting),
John Selden (sound), and Matthew J. York (sets).
The show gets
a rating of 3 1/2 stars.