Tony Reilly in "Ulysses for Beginners"
The American Irish Repertory Theater (AIRE) is bringing back their original show "Bloomsday for Beginners," its celebration of June 16, the day that the action takes place in James Joyce’s much-revered-but perhaps-lesser-read masterwork, Ulysses.
In one hour, the troupe will take you through the perambulations of Leopold Bloom, the main character and Irish Odysseus who wanders the Dublin streets and pubs and, at one point, a brothel. It's there that he meets up with Stephen Daedalus, the artist Joyce paints a portrait of in his earlier, more accessible work. Bloom is chaste in the scene, and spends his time trying to sober up Stephen and keep him from the missteps of youth. Meanwhile, back at his house, his wife Molly Bloom has been the opposite of her Ulysses counterpart, Penelope, who kept her suitors at bay, weaving and unweaving.
The annual AIRE production brings this marvelous cast of characters to life, in full brogue. The rollicking adaptation was written by AIRE Artistic Director Tony Reilly using scenes, songs, and lots of humor to explain the story line.
“I had read Ulysses and several other Joyce books," Reilly said this week. "But I wasn't a fanatic, as I soon learned a lot of people are.”
Since that initial production, AIRE and the Maine Irish Heritage Center have done many Bloomsday celebrations, including readings of the book by local Portland celebrities, pub crawls and readings at landmarks like Monument Square, the Portland Public Library, and book stores.
“My wife Susan and I came up here to Portland to live in 2003. We had a previous relationship with the MIHC (Maine Irish Heritage Center) and our goal was to establish an Irish theater company, which we did. AIRE (American Irish Repertory Ensemble. In 2004 members of the MIHC wanted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of "Bloomsday" — June 16th, 1904, the day the events in the book James Joyce novel Ulysses are set. Everyone had good ideas but they were having a hard time implementing them. I very foolishly stepped up and said that I would put together a theater piece for the occasion. I sat down and reduced probably one of the most difficult and important books in the English language to a one-hour piece."
Reilly says "Bloomsday For Beginners" is a play for anyone who has read and appreciated Joyce's version — or those who haven't and never intend to. "It's silly, fun and fast," he says. "And it actually covers the whole book in one hour."
Tony and his wife, Susan, were in a tragic car accident that claimed Susan’s life. Tony’s return to the stage they once shared has been an inspiration to center members, theater fans, and actors everywhere. “We love Tony, and we love that he’s back here,” O’Malley said. His return, though incredibly difficult, has inspired Tony as well.
“I have to say that Susan was the prime mover and shaker on the Portland Bloomsday activities. Every year, she and a handful of local devotees would work very hard, to make it a fun and memorable event. When I was still in the hospital after the accident that took my wife, I got a call from members of the AIRE board that gingerly said ‘would you maybe consider doing Ulysses for Beginners this year? At the time I immediately said ‘yes,’ even though I don’t even think I was able to walk yet. After the initial yes, I started thinking that I was nuts to do it. But the thought of honoring Susan and her memory was too strong, and it was the best thing I could have done,” Reilly said. “The response that night (June 16, 2015) at the MIHC was overwhelming. ‘Ulysses’ is a funny book that attracts a very strong following. And it’s a very strong part of Irish culture, and that’s what AIRE and MIHC are all about: celebrating and spreading Irish joy.”
The MIHC plans to keep the tribute going with an exhibit of their collection of Joyce’s books, memorabilia, and a screening of The Dead, John Huston’s final film starring his daughter Anjelica Huston. Many cities in the US such as New York, Buffalo, and San Francisco have their own unique ways of celebrating, and with its potent literary scene, Portland is throwing in its dented hat. Last year, the MIHC hosted the 1st annual Welcome the Stranger, a local organization that helps new immigrants with issues surrounding their refugee status and seeking of asylum.
"Bloomsday for Beginners," readings and performances by AIRE (American Irish Repertory Ensemble) | Fri June 16, 7 p.m. | Maine Irish Heritage Center, 34 Gray Street, Portland | Free
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