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.