By Adam Collier
The name Bloomsday derives from Leopold Bloom, a character in Joyce’s epic novel Ulysses. June 16th honors the day Joyce met his muse and wife, Nora Barnacle.
Hugh’s Room is in the basement of a low-story building near the Junction. It has sunken tiers of tables, with a pretty big stage in one back corner. But the Hooley – originally meaning a night of Irish music and dance – had such a big cast of performers that they had to alternate on-and-off from a row of chairs just right of the stage.
The readers made the material clear, immediate and accessible. They seemed fully in command of the vernacular (the material included passages from Ulysses, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners, Finnegan’s Wake, and a satirical letter), and wore costumes (some terrific fancy hats were on display).
The material is almost exclusively dialogue between characters. And the language – proudly referred to as ‘The Irish Language’ not English – is subtle, articulate, but unsophisticated.
There were a few passages that followed the thoughts of a single character at length (the so-called stream-of-consciousness that Joyce helped pioneer ). For all that others have told me of how unwieldy Joyce’s style is, I didn’t find that in the Hooley readings.
Again, my hat is off to the actors.
One such stream-of-consciousness passage (episode 13 from Ulysses titled “Nausicaa”) describes a woman exposing her legs and underwear. The reading expressed a keen attention to pace and volume emphasis (I wish I could credit by name the reader, a woman – an excellent casting decision, even though the passage is Bloom’s interior narrative – but it was difficult for me to identify the actors as they were introduced at the end).
The inclusion of “Nausicaa” (historically controversial for its explicit content) was indicative of the selections as a whole. They were all frank expressions of human preoccupation – politics, sex, death and love.
Irish ballads punctuated the night (about two-and-a-half hours of performance with a generous intermission). I could hear a small chorus of voices in the audience. Suggesting either that they had Irish roots or had attended before (Bloomsday is in its twenty-fifth year), or – just as likely, based on the few people I talked to – both.
I was absolutely enchanted by the Bloomsday Hooley, and would very strongly recommend it.