Karen and I attended an online event celebrating Bloomsday on June 16, 2021. I haven’t read hardly any James Joyce, just one or two stories in *Dubliners,* and definitely have never cracked the cover of *Ulysses.* Symphony Space has done a Bloomsday celebration on June 16 every year for 40 years. That’s the date on which the book takes place, and Bloomsday is named after the central character of the book, Leopold Bloom.
The first hour was a conversation about *Ulysses* between four lovers of Joyce, Diana Abu-Jaber, Michael Chabon, Regina Porter, and Colm Tóibín. What they said didn’t have much impact on me, it was geared toward people who know their Joyce. This being the pandemic times, it took place on Zoom.
The real pull of the event for me was the second half: a performance of excerpts from the book done by my beloved Elevator Repair Service (ERS), the avant garde downtown theatre company I’ve seen doing *GATZ* (their eight-hour production of *The Great Gatsby*) and a wacky and revelatory production of *Measure For Measure.* I paid $150 to see *M4M* and it was worth every penny. I adore them and want to see everything they do.
Tóibín introduced the ERS by saying that Symphony Space had commissioned them to do a full-evening adaptation of *Ulysees* for Bloomsday in 2022. Their performance this year was a sneak preview of next year’s show, filmed the week before at the empty Symphony Space.
It was performed by five actors sitting at a table: Daphne Gaines, Maggie Homman, Vin Knight, April Matthis, and Scott Shepherd. I had seen Knight and Shepherd in a few other ERS shows but don’t remember having seen any of the women. The show was directed by their artistic director, John Collins.
Things got off to a somewhat rough start. The performance annoyed me. They had one actor reading the book, playing the narrator, but then when one of the characters spoke, the line was done by both the actor playing the character and the actor playing the narrator. Plus they had a lot of cutesie camera work drawing attention to itself.
The next scene was more satisfying. It was about eating and the three female actors stuffed food into their mouths. The text went by fast and furious, it had the beguiling anarchy of much of the ERS’s best work.
This being a Zoom production, we got to see comments made by audience members. They were not into it. A favorite comment: “This is AWFUL.” People were disturbed that their beloved Joyce was being desecrated in this way, they wished they would just do a straightforward reading of the text. My response won’t surprise you: read the book yourself. ERS is here to do something inventive and unexpected. Turn it off if you don’t like it.
Karen noticed that the comments were disabled. Karen and I filled the void by texting each other. She said this about the comments being turned off: "There were some people on chat who were into it and seemed to be more ERS folk than Joyce folk. I think they disabled the chat because people were trading notes about what radio station they could turn into to hear *Ulysses* read live this evening."
I wrote her at 8:11: “Has it really only been 11 minutes? They sure do pack a lot into a short span of time.” The curtain is just going up on *Tristan und Isolde* at 11 minutes.
One thing I really loved about the show: the actors all spoke with their own voices, there was no attempt to be Irish or whatever. I appreciated that. As I wrote that, one of the actors was doing a monologue in an American Southern accent! Why not.
Wow! Turns out the whole thing was only 21 minutes long! Leave ‘em wanting more, I always say.
Here's the great Fiona Shaw reading an excerpt from *Ulysees* from the 2020 Bloomsday experience: