Art Theater Preview
Sometimes Poison Is the Only Cure
Gibraltar stages edgy relationship at the heart of Joyce’s Ulysses
Photos by Russell Maynor
James Joyce’s Ulysses is a world unto itself. The notorious—and notoriously difficult—novel is a textured portrait of Dublin, chock-full of countless allusions, puns and geographic references. It gives the impression of containing everything. If Dublin were to slip into the sea, its architecture, accents and culture could be flawlessly reconstructed using Ulysses as a master blueprint.
Buried amidst the novel’s endless details is an unconventional love story that’s every bit as epic as Homer’s The Odyssey, the inspiration for Ulysses. “The central story in the novel is the relationship between Leopold and Molly Bloom,” says actor and playwright Patrick Fitzgerald. Gibraltar, Fitzgerald’s stage adaptation of Ulysses, takes us on a journey through this couple’s estrangement, infidelities and eventual reunion. The Western states regional premiere of the play debuts on April 11 at Aux Dog Theatre (3011 Monte Vista NE) as part of this year’s Southwest Irish Theater Festival.
Gibraltar follows Molly and Leopold over the course of a single day in Dublin: June 16, 1904. Their marriage has been in decline since the death of their son Rudy more than a decade ago. Willing to try anything to rekindle the passion, Leopold tolerates Molly’s planned hook-up with her overbearing concert manager Hugh “Blazes” Boylan. “The couple has lost their language of love,” says Fitzgerald. “Leopold is actually in on Molly’s infidelity because he hopes it will help them get back this language. Sometimes poison is the only cure.”
“The couple has lost their language of love. Leopold is actually in on Molly’s infidelity because he hopes it will help them get back this language. Sometimes poison is the only cure.”
Leopold wanders the streets of Dublin while Molly and Boylan rendezvous. Thoughts of his wife constantly stream through his mind. And despite her affair, Molly can’t get Leopold out of her thoughts either. Highly lauded local actors Sheridan Johnson and Brennan Foster connect us to the internal turmoil of this conflicted couple. “Sheridan and Brennan are consummate performers who eagerly embraced the demands of this ambitious play,” says Victoria Liberatori, producing artistic director at Aux Dog. “They bring a palpable chemistry to the stage.” Although Gibraltar stars just two actors, it features numerous characters. Johnson alone plays 11 roles, including her lover Boylan, her daughter Milly, a narrator, a muse, a chemist and even Leopold himself on one occasion. The play is a thrilling—albeit challenging—roller coaster ride as it zips from one character’s perspective to another.
Some of these shifts can be hard to follow, but it doesn’t matter because the play’s language is so deliciously vivid and inventive, not to mention bawdy. “Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed,” says Leopold, remembering an intimate moment he shared with Molly. “Mawkish pulp her mouth had mumbled sweetsour of her spittle. Joy: I ate it: joy.” The characters in Gibraltar are bristling with desires, alive with appetites. Leopold’s aggressively Paleo diet—described at the beginning of the play—makes Frontier’s heavy fare look like a Weight Watchers menu: “Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.” It’s lines like these that make Gibraltar so arresting, so worth seeing. And hearing the words spoken out loud gives them a dimension they lack on the written page.
Weary from the day’s wanderings, Molly and Leopold finally return home and retire to the marital bed. Leopold falls asleep, reassured by his reunion with Molly, his rock of Gibraltar. But Molly’s swirling thoughts keep her awake. Thus begins a 37-minute stream-of-consciousness monologue in which Molly reflects on her daughter and deceased son, viscerally explicit details of her affair, her childhood in Gibraltar and even the start of her period. But throughout it all, she keeps thinking of Leopold—what she loves about him, what she can’t stand about him. “Her mind simply won’t let her not remember [Leopold] Bloom,” says Fitzgerald. The word “yes” crops up throughout Molly’s monologue, increasing in frequency as she remembers the long-ago day when Leopold proposed to her at Howth Head. “[H]e asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.” This surge of tenderness offers a whiff of hope in the final seconds before the stage fades to dark.
Gibraltar Western states premiere
Friday, April 11, 8pm
Runs through April 27
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm
A conversation with Patrick Fitzgerald, Sunday, April 13, 4pm
Aux Dog Theatre
3011 Monte Vista NE
Tickets: $18 online, $20 at door