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Bloomsday, June 16, 2022

Liz and I went to a Bloomsday performance at Symphony Space on June 16, 2022. Bloomsday is an annual celebration of James Joyce's *Ulysees.* It takes place on June 16 because that's the day the novel is set and it's named after its protagonist, Leopold Bloom. Symphony Space has a Bloomsday reading every year and since this year was the centenary of the novel, they did something special - - they commissioned the Elevator Repair Service to do an adaptation.


The Elevator Repair Service is an avant garde downtown theatre company, one of my favorite arts organizations in the city. I've seen five or six of their productions, starting with the astonishing, revelatory *GATZ,* an eight-hour staged reading of *The Great Gatsby,* possibly the most brilliant and imaginative thing I've ever seen onstage.


Symphony Space's Bloomsday event the year before had been an online affair because of Covid. It was a sort of work-in-progress preview of the Elevator Repair Service production. It used their distinctive teleprompter technique (I'll explain that in a minute), it had seven actors at a table, it was odd and kooky. It was one of my favorite genres, a Glorious Mess.


Well, the final product was just a mess. Moments of genius, but loud and dull. The central element of the production was what I call their teleprompter technique. This was something they invented for their dazzling 2017 production of *Measure For Measure.* The actors memorized their roles and the pacing of the show was dictated by computer screens at the foot of the stage and the back of the auditorium. The text scrolled through the screen like you'd see on a teleprompter, only in this case it was often impossibly fast.


The seven actors in the Bloomsday performance didn't memorize *Ulysees* and the text didn't go by so fast as it had in *M4M.* It just wasn't very interesting. The actors were fully engaged and committed to the concept but they couldn't succeed. I ran into my friend Ellen after the show. Her diagnosis was that the problem was the sound design, which was flat, somewhat tinny, and too damn loud. That was a big problem but I think the bigger issue is that the directorial concept (I'm sorry, director John Collins) simply didn't present the material in an engaging way.


Speaking of the cast, do I really have to go Nancy Drew on your ass in order to know who was in this show? There was no program handed out at the theater and no cast listing (that I could find) on the Symphony Space website. I did find a cast list on the Elevator Repair Service website, but it's the cast of both the 2021 demo production and the 2022 full production. The only two actors I knew were Scott Shepherd and Vin Knight, both of whom I've seen in previous ERS productions, both brilliant actors going after it with all their might. The full cast list:


Dee Beasnael

Kate Benson

Daphne Gaines

Maggie Hoffman

Vin Knight

April Matthis

Scott Shepherd

Christopher Rashee Stevenson

Stephanie Weeks


I'm historically interested in seeing everything that ERS does. They're doing *Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge* at the Public this fall, a staging of a conversation between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr. I'm conflicted about whether or not I'm going to it. Maybe it'll depend on the ticket price.

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