By Timothy Gillis
PORTLAND –This Saturday, June 16, is Bloomsday, an international day of literary tribute to James Joyce. The Irish author created some of the world’s greatest fiction. June 16 is the day that all the epic action takes place in Ulysses, his novel that usually appears as #1 on any “greatest books” list. The novel also counts as one of the least read, or understood, works on these same lists.
Local aficionados have planned several events to celebrate the writer, and help make his works more accessible. This past Monday night, Bull Feeney’s played host to the first event.
Seanachie Nights presented a Bloomsday program featuring storytellers performing pieces from Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, as well as Joycean-flavored folktales and tunes. Lynne Cullen kicked off the evening by playing a few songs on her concertina. There were some sing-alongs to get the crowd involved, like the Spanish Ladies Chorus and the Finnegan’s Wake Chorus. (The song is possessive; the novel is not.)
Cullen then told a few folktales.
Sebastian Lockwood read passages from Finnegans Wake, and Janet Lynch portrayed Molly Bloom in a tour de force performance that had the crowd mesmerized. Her brilliant rendition featured one especially comic scene when she goes to the bathroom – which is actually a corner stool with curtain around it – when she realizes she’s having her period. It parallels an earlier scene from the novel when Leopold Bloom, the protagonist, goes to the outhouse in Chapter 4. Such scenes, and colorful language, caused the book to be banned.
The crowd loved it, and laughed as Molly, the Penelope character in this Odyssean tale, kept ranting while sitting on the toilet behind the curtain.
By the end of the performance, though, everyone knew this last chapter is a love letter, not some kind of bathroom humor.
At one point during Lynch’s portrayal, Lockwood laughed and looked outside when someone collecting beer bottles from Sunday’s old port festival dumped their cache, and the glass rolled down the cobblestones in perfect ambient background to Lynch’s lament of men and their drink.
The celebration continues Thursday evening, with a screening of the 1967 film Ulysses and a talk about Ulysses on film by USM professor Francis McGrath. This event will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Portland Public Library, room 5.
On Friday evening, AIRE (American Irish Repertory Ensemble) brings back its rollicking performance piece “Ulysses for Beginners,” using scenes, songs, slides, and humor to explain the storyline of Ulysses in one hour. This event is at Bull Feeney’s Pub, 375 Fore Street, at 7:30 p.m.
On Saturday, June 16, the party reaches full “bloom” with Poldy’s Perambulation, a Bloomsday walk from the Maine Irish Heritage Center (12 noon) to various spots in Portland: Brian Boru at 12:30 p.m., Longfellow Books at 1:30 p.m., Bull Feeney’s at 2:30 p.m. and Rira’s Irish Pub at 3:30 p.m. Actors will be performing selections from Ulysses at each stop.
Finally, on Saturday evening at the Maine Irish Heritage Center, 34 Gray Street, there will be a program featuring traditional Irish group Boghat and the actress Lynch doing a selection from Love’s Old Sweet Song, her one-woman show with music about Molly Bloom. The show begins at 7:30 p.m.