Celebrating #Bloomsday with Ulysses by Elevator Repair Service at Symphony Space

On the 100th anniversary of the publication of James Joyce’s monumental modernist novel “Ulysses,” Symphony Space gave over its annual Bloomsday celebration to a new theater piece, entitled “Ulysses: Elevator Repair Service Takes on Bloomsday .”

The commission made sense; it was also a bit intimidating. The experimental company is renowned for its 2010 breakout hit, “Gatz,” which was a seven-hour verbatim reading/odd dramatization of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and for “The Select,” the following year, a three hour and 15 minutes verbatim reading/odd dramatization of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.”  Given their history, I found it nearly miraculous that ERS’s “Ulysses” was a mere two hours and twenty minutes. Ok, no intermission, but not the entire 700-page novel, just a verbatim reading/odd dramatization of highlights from each of the eighteen chapters of Ulysses.

I have been celebrating James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses” nearly every year on June 16th — that’s the (very long) day in 1904 that Ulysses chronicles in the life of Leopold Bloom, thus called Bloomsday, and marked by literature lovers around the world. But I remember vividly only the opening of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” —

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed….

and even more vividly the closing — 

…. I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

I can scarcely remember anything in-between. I think even if I could, “Ulysses” would have been startling

It looked at first like a panel discussion, with the seven actors sitting in a row behind a long linen-covered table. It began as if a conventional reading. But this is Elevator Repair Service, and so the actors would abruptly jerk back in unison, a projection of a barrage of  words would suddenly wash over the linen tablecloth, the actors would stand up, dance, crawl; most memorably, Leopold Bloom is propped on his back, stripped of his dress (he was wearing a dress, perhaps an Irish kilt), and the ensemble yanked some half dozen baby dolls one by one out of his anus. That’s not a passage I remember from the novel.

This was a one-time event, remarkable, weird, review-proof, which is best memorialized by sharing some photographs by Kevin Yatarola.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

1 thought on “Celebrating #Bloomsday with Ulysses by Elevator Repair Service at Symphony Space

  1. “That’s not a passage I remember from the novel.” Re-read episode 15. It’s in there. As was everything you saw in the production.

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