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  • "Ulysses": A Revised And Expanded Stage Adaptation Of Joyce'S Novelby James Joyce
  • Mason Whitehorn Powell
"ULYSSES": A REVISED AND EXPANDED STAGE ADAPTATION OF JOYCE'S NOVEL, by James Joyce, adapted by Dermot Bolger, and performed in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin: Ireland, 2-282017. October

A first reading of Ulyssesis an act of discovery. As readers romp through Dublin to meet the associates of Stephen and Bloom for the first time, their conception of these characters begins to take shape. This surprise of initial discovery cannot be repeated, but each subsequent reading should solidify one's visualization and deepen one's understanding of Joyce's characters. Adaptation can disrupt this fine balance between author, text, and reader, since what one imagines never mirrors exactly what one will see, no matter how it materializes. Luckily for those familiar with the text, Dermot Bolger's recent theatrical adaptation of Ulysses, which ran from 2-28 October 2017 at the Abbey Theatre, felt more like a renewal of discovery than a disruption.

Bolger's first adaptation of Ulysseswas published in 1995: A Dublin Bloom: An Original Free Adaptation of James Joyce's" Ulysses." 1This work was commissioned by the Rosenbach Museum for a 1994 production in Philadelphia, during their ninetieth Bloomsday celebration. In 2012, Bolger updated his adaptation for stagings in Scotland, Ireland, and the People's Republic of China to coincide with the book's copyright expiration in the European Union. Bolger's work began in 1993, meaning that he chipped away at Ulysses's 265,222 wordsfor over two decades. Significant changes have been made with each iteration; while there are parallels between A Dublin Bloomand the play of 2017, they are different shows entirely. What audiences observed at the 2017 Dublin Theatre Festival—" Ulysses": A Revised and Expanded [End Page 460] Stage Adaptation of Joyce's Novel—both retains the essence of Joyce's novel and adorns it with originality.

Symbolism and history aside, the Abbey Theatre was the perfect venue for Graham McLaren's direction and design. For those who have not been there, the Abbey has a stage center with seats facing it from the front and back (a feature not utilized in every production). Ulysseswas performed in an omnidirectional fashion, which seemed to dissolve any sense of a fourth wall. The set functioned as the Blooms' bedroom with their bed always center stage. This was surrounded by Dublin-proper, including public houses, churches, and brothels, among other ready-made settings that hardly saw any scenery changes during transitions. This effect of everything-all-at-once was focalized as the cast moved around the stage and was enhanced through the clever use of props, lights, sound design, and an excellent ensemble cast. In addition, tickets were available for onstage seating at public-house tables, blurring where the audience began and ended. To one side was a piano and coatrack, used for live music and costume changes, and at the other was the Ormond Hotel bar top.

According to Bolger, the final script is "98.5 percent distilled Joyce." 2The changes were made in order to condense and bridge sections. Bolger's most significant revision of the source material was chronology, and the play's greatest issue was pacing.

On the first point, the play opens with Molly (Janet Moran) and Bloom (David Pearse) in bed, and she rises and enters into a soliloquy. As the play progresses, Molly remains in bed for nearly all the play's two acts, and she regularly wakes to soliloquize between scenes as the spotlight reveals her again. Moran's performance solidified Molly's sensuality and bored domesticity in such an act of appropriation that her final, male-written episode conveys true feminine embodiment. All female cast members performed with powerful agency, but the presentation and poetry of the "Penelope" excerpts drew every eye and ear magnetically. Bolger addressed this change:

An immediate theatrical problem was Molly's soliloquy—a brilliant one woman show in itself—but in danger of unbalancing any adaptation. … What if I started at the end: with Bloom falling asleep in bed beside Molly? He could be led back...


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