By Holli Harms

Dear God they did it! And thank God they did!

Elevator Repair Service (ERS) not only gives us Joyce’s notoriously demanding novel of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom (the hilarious Vin Knight) , but they do it with their comprehensive, wonderfully exuberant theatrics that sail the characters into our hearts.

Seven actors, 82 pages of script, and we embark on Joyce’s epically dense read/enactment with everyone seated at a long table facing us. A stack of plain white paper and a bottle of water in front of each of them. There they begin to recite the book to us, reciting the words and reenacting the actions. Becoming the characters they describe.

Ulysses the novel is 730 pages and ERS’s script is 82. As Scott Shepherd, fabulous actor and dramaturgy says at the opening of the performance, “We will fast forward in some parts because to reenact the entire novel would take hours.”

How they “fast forward” is so damn clever and entertaining. Yes! They make “skipping words” entertainment, jovial fun entertainment. The words are projected on a screen at the back of the stage and when they fast forward sections, the words fly by on the front of the long table where they are all seated, and on the bare wall behind them. Sometimes the skips are so fast and drastic that the words physically throw the actors into new directions.

The book itself I have tried to read, but the dense descriptions and tangents of thought, ideas, and spacial wanderings had me closing it and returning it time and time again to the bookshelf. Here most of those moments are the skips. One reviewer of the book wrote in an online review, “Lots of stuff is going to fly over your head. Let it.” I think ERS did just that for us, after all, the words at the back of the stage are literally above our heads.

The stage itself is dressed as if for rehearsal. The long table is downstage center, up stage and both stage left and right are stacked folding tables and chairs. One huge clock hangs on the back wall. There for all to see as the novel takes place over the course of one day, the time will change with each chapter, each scene. We are witnessing one day June 16th, one day that Bloom meets friends, goes to work and luncheons for work, gets drunk, meets lovers, attends a funeral, and at times goes nowhere, just sitting and watching a nose being picked, or standing and observing those he knows eating their meals at a restaurant like disgusting animals like monsters. All the while his inner monologue continues on auto pilot.

The staging starts at the long table with all seated but it quickly takes a turn to movement, with props arriving from under the table – an endless array of stuff soon covers the table and stage. Strewn about creating visuals of mess and confusion, much like the inner free flowing monologue of observations, and boredom, and sexual desire.

By the end of the performance the stage is askew with tables and chairs and papers and props thrown all about. It will all shift and change and grow in intensity. The story takes over the words and takes over all who are there to witness it. The performance, like the book, ends with Molly, Bloom’s wife (Maggie Hoffman), touching on her beliefs about life, about husband and lovers. Hoffman’s beautiful honest gift of this speech which is written out with not one punctuation is breathtaking and captivating bringing a final culmination of artistry to the production.

Joyce honoring Molly with this speech, and honoring Gerty (also Hoffman) with her words earlier on, gives power to women who are talking about their sexual wants and needs. Women letting other women know, at the time of its publication December 1920, that yes their desires are valid and normal and should be embraced. Women, Joyce reminds us, are sexual creatures just like men.

Elevator Repair Service’s Ulysses now playing at the wonderful Fisher Center at Bard College is truly a groundbreaking piece of theatrical art. It is a wonderful culmination of heroic actors and creative team.  I hope that it travels. Everywhere.

Thank you Elevator Repair Service for taking on this monumental piece of writing. Thank you for your courage, strength and bravery and the devil may care why the heck not attitude that you approach this with. And for making it so much fun!

Elevator Repair Service Ulysses, Created by Elevator Repair Service
Directed by John Collins, Co-Direction and Dramaturgy by Scott Shepherd
Text: Ulysses by James Joyce

With: Dee Beasnael, Kate Benson, Maggie Hoffman, Vin Knight, Scott Shepherd, Christopher-Rashee Stevenson, and Stephanie Weeks

Creative Team: set design by dots (The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, Public Obscenities), costume design by Enver Chakartash (Stereophonic, Is This A Room on Broadway) and Assistant Costume Designer Caleb Krieg, lighting design by Marika Kent (ERS’s Seagull) and Assistant Lighting Designer Matt Lazarus, sound design by OBIE Award-winner Ben Williams (The Whitney Album), sound engineering by Gavin Price, projections by Matthew Deinhart (El Amor Brujo, ANIMUS ANIMA//ANIMA ANIMUS) and Assistant Projections Designer Alessandra Cronin, and props by Patrícia Marjorie (Wolf Play, Flex) and Assistant Properties Designer Ned Gaynor. Maurina Lioce (Fondly, Collette Richland; Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge) is the Assistant Director and Stage Manager, and Kelsey Vivian is the Assistant Stage Manager. Hanna Novak of ERS is the producer.

 

THROUGH JULY 14.

The Fisher Center at Bard College 

Tickets HERE

Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission