The 36th Bloomsday at Symphony Space, 2017
Bloomsday on Broadway
June 16, 2017
The thirty-sixth celebration of Bloomsday at Symphony Space, originally conceived by SS ‘s late founder, Isaiah Sheffer, was a fitting tribute to Ulysses and its author, James Joyce. With a projection of Joyce’s face looking down on either side of the stage, the audience reveled in panel discussions; music including a beautiful rendition of Love’s Old Sweet Song, as discussed by Molly Bloom in the book and a “Whirlwind Tour through all 18 Episodes.” This Joyce fest offered something for even the most die-hard fan.
Actually, I thought there was just a little too much. After a welcome by eighty-five year old Malachy McCourt, there was a panel, “The Fight for One Book Called Ulysses”, hosted by Kevin Birmingham with readings by Ellen Adair, Michal Simon Hall (who needs to learn that Iago isn’t performed with an “I” and not to mangle the word “lascivious”), Arthur Lazalde, Khris Lewin and Ellen O’Dea. I’m sure Mr. Birmingham’s book is a winner but the panel was far too long—the audience would have gotten the point about the struggles to publish Ulysses without quite so many examples. The most fun was Mr. Lazalde’s reading of Joyce’s letters to his not-yet-wife Nora Barnacle; you can’t beat these for all-out sexual explicitness and ultra-Rabelaisian wit.
The second panel, “The Fight Goes On: Censorship in the 21st Century”, hosted by Chris Finan, Director of the American Booksellers for Free Expression, was far shorter with engaging readings by John McCormick, Robin Miles, Sarah Montague and Bernadette Quigley. It’s terrible that some schools still censor what is presented to students and does an injustice to all, especially the students. (If you would like to help The National Coalition Against Censorship where Mr. Finan is on the Board, look into www.ncac.org.
Finally we came to Ulysses itself, chapter by chapter with succinct introductions to each by Paul Muldoon. Well, not quite; before this segment began there were brief talks by Isaiah Sheffer’s widow, a wonderful speaker, and Fritz Weaver’s widow as Mr. Weaver was always part of this celebration until his recent death. Happily, the introduction of the first chapter of Ulysses opened with a taping of his voice.
Many actors read segments from each chapter, (special kudos to Robin Miles and Edoardo Ballerini), with great verve. Songs by Lisa Flannagan were highly appropriate and sung beautifully. I confess to not staying until the bitter end which featured Kirsten Vangsness performing the great monologue by Molly Bloom that comprises the Penelope chapter but some of us have to sleep and it was well after midnight. Regardless, Bloomsday was and is a terrific annual event and a tribute to Joyce and his book that changed law and literature.