Review: A ‘Ulysses’ That Squeezes Bloomsday Into 2 Hours, 40 Minutes

The secondary roles are almost tertiary in this edit, but sharply incised. Playing both Stephen Dedalus, stuck teaching history to uninterested boys, and Bloom’s sharp-tongued cat, Christopher-Rashee Stevenson embodies their surprising commonality. “Stately, plump” Buck Mulligan is, in Shepherd’s sketch, a familiar, odious blowhard; as Molly’s lover Blazes Boylan, loping lasciviously with the loosely strung limbs of a marionette, he’s an especially awful and marvelous roué. Only the narration, though beautifully spoken — often by Stephanie Weeks, Dee Beasnael and Kate Benson when they aren’t shape-shifting into various Dubliners — feels as yet underdramatized.

The slack is taken up by the physical production, which pushes Elevator Repair Service’s minimalistic maximalism, made famous 14 years ago by its eight-hour “Gatz,” to even further extremes. Scenes are efficiently set with just a prop or two: Dedalus’s noxious classroom is suggested by a fleet of paper airplanes. The lighting (by Marika Kent) and sound (by Ben Jalosa Williams) function as a kind of chorus, amplifying the small world the characters live in, and even the poker-faced set (by the design collective dots) eventually reveals its hand.

But it may be Enver Chakartash’s costumes that best express the company’s ethos — and, in doing so, Joyce’s. At first, when the actors appear at that bland conference table, and we see them only from the solar plexus up, they seem to be wearing unremarkable suits, evoking probity. But with time, as they rise and move, the image transforms. Dedalus is wearing shorts, Bloom a full skirt with complex pleats. Molly’s jacket parts to reveal a lacy camisole, and the large red flower on her lapel metastasizes into a wreath of blooms in her hair.

This is what this “Ulysses” shows us: that however conventional the face we present to the world, lower down or an inch beneath we are all hungry bodies. Sucklers, defecators, perverts, we wander lost within our grossest needs and float on our effusions — not on Homer’s wine-dark sea but Joyce’s “snotgreen” one. Hilariously, we are heroes just the same.

Through July 14 at the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.; Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes.

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