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A CurtainUp Review

In the beginning was the word: Bloom. — Muse
Patrick Fitzgerald and Cara Seymour (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Given up on reading James Joyce's Ulysses? Well, take heart. Patrick Fitzgerald has taken on the formidable task of adapting this literary juggernaut into a two-character play that scratches beneath the surface of Leopold and Molly Bloom's inglorious marriage and turns it into a life-affirming theater portrait.

Helmer Terry Kinney pares down the Dublin epic from 18 to 8 episodes with Patrick Fitzgerald and Cara Seymour as Leopold and Molly Bloom and a host of other minor characters. And though you don't get all the multiple tiers this scaled-down work clearly mirrors Joyce's larger cosmology.

Votaries of Joyce need only plunk themselves down in a seat at the Irish Rep's intimate theater space and let the love story of Mr. and Mrs. Bloom unfold. Fitzgerald is faithful, more or less, to Joyce's narrative and its Homeric correspondences in the Odyssey. Like Joyce, Fitzgerald observes the classical unities of time here. The recounting of a day-in-the-life of Leopold Bloom may be more telescoped in its geographic range and more strictly tethered to Molly, but it stands on its own theatrical feet.

The play's title refers to Molly's birthplace in the Mediterranean. Fitzgerald evinces, not only the physical location where Molly was born and grew up, but also conjures up the rock motif that runs through Joyce's original narrative. And while the Rock of Gibraltar is the most obvious image that comes to mind, it's just the iceberg tip. Joyce went deeper with his rock imagery to hint that Molly is a modern-day "siren" who could easily lure a victim onto the rocks of love. Fitzgerald smartly echoes that notion here, portraying Molly as a rising opera singer in the bel canto fashion and her lover Hugh "Blazes" Boylan (a fine singer too) as falling under her enchanting spell.

The show-stopper is Molly's paean on sex and love, that famous soliloquy made-up of eight unpunctuated sentences and countless yeses. The twist on it here is thatMolly's earthy monologue is framedwith the eight beatitudes of scripture. Whether this is a nod to St. Patrick's Irish mission or not, this gorgeous speech puts all other episodes in the shade.

Sarah Bacon, wearing the two hats of set and costume designer, hits the mark by not over-reaching. The set is suitably dominated by a bed (an heirloom from Gibraltar) and a flame-red blanket, and complemented by modest furniture pieces that would do just fine in any Dublin flat in 1904. In Act 2, there's a large scrim set back from the forestage that reveals a celestial vision of a Dublin night, much like an "uncondensed milky way" in miniature (lighting design by Paul Husdon). Bacon's costumes are apropos across the board, with Bloom wearing a trim and well-cut wool suit and Molly in sheer silky outfits that flatter her curvy figure. Make-shift outfits for the minor characters are donned for the dramatic moment.

Fitzgerald and Seymour are wonderfully paired. He a has the more urbane look with his trim physique and sophisticated manner and inhabits the lovelorn Bloom with a pithy intelligence and pathos. Seymour is the epitome of the Earth Mother, latter-day Eve, and modern counterpart to Homer's Penelope. She looks the part with her curvaceous figure, her luminous white skin, and her uninhibited body language and able singing voice. Both performers seem incredibly at home in their roles, and the chemistry between them is palpable.

Some theatergoers may find the labyrinth of language, with its symbolism, fragmentary revelations, and stream-of-consciousness style, proved as elusive to them as water in the hand. Listening to the actors perform the minor characters like the Citizen, Nameless One, and even the Bloom's 15-year-old daughter Milly, can indeed become confusing at times. But if you have a soft spot for Joyce, as I do, you will find this show a heart-felt romantic romp and a fresh re-acquaintance with a modern (and controversial) classic. What's more, it wonderfully coincides with "Bloomsday" on June 16th (the date of Bloom's odyssey through Dublin).

Adapted by Patrick Fitzgerald from the novel Ulysses by James Joyce
Directed by Terry Kinney
45 Cast: Patrick Fitzgerald (Leopold Bloom/Narrator/Citizen/Nameless One), Cara Seymour (Molly Bloom/Muse/Milly/Rudolph (Leopold's Father)/Newspaperboy/Chemist Bookseller/Blazes Boylan/Bloom/Gerty MacDowell/Nymph)
Sets and Costumes: Sarah Bacon
Sound: Alma Kelliher
Lighting: Paul Husdon
Stage Manager: Christine Lemme
The Irish Repertory Theatre Company's W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre, at 132 West 22nd Street. Tickets: $45. Phone: 212/727-2737 or online at
From 6/05/13; opening 6/13/13; closing 7/14/13.
Wednesdays @ 3pm and 8pm; Thursdays @ 7pm; Fridays @ 8pm; Saturdays @ 3pm and 8pm; Sundays @ 3pm.
Running time: 2 hours including one intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 6/08/13
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