On the surface, Ulysses follows a day in the life of two Dubliners, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Daedalus, but truly covers the entire range of human experience: life, love, grief, drinking, faith, poop, jealousy, music, sex, literature, patriotism, language, death, and the meaning of home. The Plagiarists steal from existing materials and art to create new theater. With the original edition of Ulysses in the public domain, the company tackled the unique challenge of bringing Joyce’s epic to the stage.
The Plagiarists are staging James Joyce’s Ulysses, adapted for the stage by Jessica Wright Buha and Aileen McGroddy, and directed by Aileen McGroddy. The performance space is the Berger Park Coach House located behind the main Berger Park Cultural Center building. There is no lobby, so if you arrive early, take a walk along the lake or huddle for warmth in the main building where the bathrooms are located.
The set looks like a one room schoolhouse, chalkboard upstage, long table and a couple of chairs centerstage, “teacher’s desk” downstage right, and a podium downstage left. A collection of chairs line the walls on either side of the stage to make up for limited backstage space.
I haven’t read Ulysses, so I went in without background information or plot information. Luckily, the structure of the play allowed for a professor and his teaching assistants to provide background information on the book and James Joyce, then become the characters in the story. I love a good frame story (emphasis on GOOD). This frame story in particular doesn’t overshadow the meat of the story, but actually serves a purpose instead of just being there.
With a small cast, each actor was responsible for playing multiple characters throughout the play. Actors transformed between characters using changes in individual costume pieces, posture, and voices. Charlotte Long’s transformations were among some of the most dramatic as she curled her spine under the weight of age and affected the lisp of a young schoolchild. Isaac Samuelson’s portrayal of Leopold Bloom’s cat was spectacular, reminding me of my own cat when he knocked pieces of toast onto the floor.
Just as the book experiments with forms, the play uses varied performance techniques: projection, chalk drawing, dance/movement, song, rhythmic chanting, and speeches. To assist in the flexibility of the production, set pieces are used for multiple purposes. For example, the long table centerstage served as a bed and a shop counter simultaneously.
Overall, The Plagiarists’ production of Ulysses left me wanting to read James Joyce and marvel in the ordinary that is extraordinary of my own life. I highly recommend seeing Ulysses.
Ulysses runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00pm and closes Saturday, April 30, at 8:00pm at Berger Park Coach House, 6205 N. Sheridan Rd. Tickets at $20, $15 for students or seniors and can be purchased online through Brown Paper Tickets or by calling 1-800-838-3006.