June 16, 1904, was the Dublin day on which James Joyce set his masterwork, “Ulysses,” with his “Everyman,” Leopold Bloom, making his way through the city from dawn until midnight and probably even a little longer, creeping a bit into the 17th.
The date, June 16, has come to be known throughout the world as “Bloomsday,” with celebrations and observances taking place on an annual basis in major cities around the globe, not just in countries where English is the primary tongue.
In New York, the day on which “Ulysses” takes place is recognized by more than one annual event, with the most significant by far being “Bloomsday on Broadway,” at Symphony Space at 95th Street and Broadway.
This Friday’s tribute at the Upper West Side cultural center will begin at noon and conclude whenever the several dozen actors, readers, singers and instrumentalists have finished their assigned tasks and headed home from Symphony Space.
This year’s running of the event is of particular significance for two reasons. First, it is the 25th time the day has been honored in that particular performance space, making the official title “Bloomsday on Broadway XXV.”
Second, since 1906 marks the centenary of the birth of Samuel Beckett, the life and work of two great Dubliners not Joyce alone, will be the subject of ardent, informed tribute.
It is perhaps interesting to note that the immortal Beckett made his appearance on the Dublin scene a mere two years after the equally immortal, albeit fictitious Leopold Bloom made his journey through the streets of Ireland’s greatest city.
In addition to extensive excerpts from “Ulysses” and a smattering of works by Beckett, familiar and otherwise, “Bloomsday on Broadway XXV” will place special emphasis on Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”
“A Portrait” will be represented by two scenes, first the famous Christmas dinner scene in the Dedalus household and then the sequence, toward the end of the novel, in which Stephen famously declares his spiritual independence and defiance.
“Ulysses,” in some senses, revolves around a sort of triangle, made up of Bloom, his wife, Molly, and Stephen Dedalus, who is a kind of self-portrait on Joyce’s part, and Bloom’s spiritual son.
“Bloomsday on Broadway XXV” will place a certain emphasis on Stephen’s participation, hence the inclusion of the two segments from “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”
The portion of the celebration devoted to Samuel Beckett will include the full text of “Krapp’s Last Tape,” plus the excerpt from the novel, “Molly,” which has come to be known as “the Sucking Stones Sequence,” and, among other things, a reading by Marian Seldes of a little-known Beckett story.
That story, “A Case in a Thousand,” appeared in the August 1934 issue of the Bookman Magazine, and was one of the first Beckett pieces ever published.
Since the first edition of “Bloomsday on Broadway” was performed at Symphony Space, literally hundreds of actors, scholars and other assorted Joyceans have taken part in the event, many of them many more times that merely once.
This year’s performers will include Jonathan Hadary, Stephen Lang, Fritz Weaver, Rochelle Oliver, Keir Dullea, Mia Dillon, David Margulies, Frank McCourt, Malachy McCourt, Kathleen Chalfant, Frances Sternhagen, Denis O’Hare, Paul Hecht, Terry Donnelly, Robin Howard, Caitlin Langstaff, Bernadette Quigley Stephen Spinella, Jack Davidson, and, of course, Fionnula Flanagan, who will, in what has become something of a “Bloomsday on Broadway” tradition, read, in its entirety, Molly Bloom’s monologue, which, by now ranks as one of the most celebrated sequences ever composed in the English language.
Portions of the celebration will be dedicated to music mentioned in “Ulysses” the prominent example, the love duet from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” will be performed by Kevin Burdette and Lisa Flanagan. Soprano Flanagan, as it happens, is the daughter of Fionnula Flanagan.
“Bloomsday on Broadway XXV” is comprised of four distinct parts, as follows. First, an introduction and overview incorporating material from the Telemachus, Proteus and Nestor sequences from “Ulysses,” plus segments from “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”
The second portion begins with a unit to which producer Isaiah Sheffer has attached the title “Enter Leopold,” to be followed by extracts from Calypso, Scylla and Charybdis, Wandering Rocks, Cyclops and Nausicaa.
The third part of the celebration is dedicated to Samuel Beckett, who was Joyce’s friend, disciple, and, when the literary giant’s eyesight began to fail, secretary.
The fourth and final unit returns to Leopold Bloom, incorporating portions of Oxen of the Sun, Circe, Emaus, Ithaca, and what has come to be known as “the Fully Molly,” delivering every word of what is probably the most famous monologue in all of literature.
The event will be taped for broadcast on radio station WBAI-FM. Tickets to “Bloomsday on Broadway XXV” are priced at $20, $14 for Symphony Space members, and $17 for seniors and students. For information phone (212) 865-5400 or check www.symphonyspace.org.