"Circe" —Chapter Fifteen

In both a timely and exquisite gesture, Germinal Stage Denver's artistic director Ed Baierlein is staging an ambitious adaptation of "Circe" —Chapter Fifteen, the long passage in James Joyce's Ulysses that was written as a play. As with the book itself, it takes some doing to adequately describe this theatrical experience.

Photo of James Joyce
James Joyce
One hundred years ago this very evening, as I write this, James Joyce went out for a walk with his future wife, Nora Barnacle. In commemoration of that date, he set June 16, 1904 as the day on which the entirety of his monumental work takes place. Considered by many as the greatest novel ever written, the story parallels the wanderings of the famous Greek warrior in the life of Leopold Bloom, a middle-aged Irish Jew who makes his living as an advertising canvasser.

As with any great work of art, universality is the key to its genius, and, indeed, Ulysses' anniversary is being toasted in over 40 countries. Folks are eating and drinking what Leopold Bloom ate and drank, taking turns reading the entirety of the book, and generally celebrating the culture and rich, descriptive language that lies within its 768 pages.

The New York Times ran an editorial today in which it called this day, affectionately known as Bloomsday, "the most capacious day in literature." In this sense, "Circe" —Chapter Fifteen is a microcosm of entire book, which, in itself, is a microcosm of Dublin, and on another level, the whole world.

For this lofty purpose, Joyce was challenged to break apart linguistic forms and literary genres, in much the same way that Picasso and Einstein were doing in their respective fields at that time. Even today, when stream-of-consciousness is a generally accepted style, Ulysses remains a challenge even to many of the most well-read Joyce devotees.

But like a great jazz melody, a cubist painting, or a universe-shattering equation that mellows with age, the message of Ulysses is becoming clearer as the decades pass. Ezra Pound once explained this phenomena when he declared, "Artists are the antennae of the race." Certainly that is one of the things geniuses do—sense an evolutionary truth before it has come over the horizon of general consciousness.

In "Circe" —Chapter Fifteen, the space-time that we witness is one that, like cubism or relativity or extemporaneous music, expresses multiple dimensions simultaneously: Latin chants, children's rhymes, bawdy come-ons, gurgling brooks, engine pistons, legal arguments and Yiddish oaths in brogue with lilt, drift in and out of the cobbled streets, along the sandy shoreline, among the denizens of the red-light district and every bar in Dublin, reaching the goblins and ghouls of the cemetery and other places that are only of the imagination.

Photo of Terry Burnsed as Leopold Bloom
Terry Burnsed
as Leopold Bloom
At the center of this phantasmagoria is Leopold Bloom, an incessant talker, who carries on a running conversation with the people and events, real and hallucinated, that he encounters throughout his day. Terry Burnsed, who has played everyone from Jean-Paul Marat to Roy Cohen and The Last Bolshevik, inhabits Bloom as few actors are capable, rolling with the instantaneous shifts in scenic and emotional climate, now saint, now sinner, cuckolded husband and profane philanderer, epicure and glutton.

In addition to his broad elocutionary and psychological palette, Burnsed's mastery over the manifold physical demands that result from such a 360° non-stop assault on the senses is astonishing, adding immeasurably to the unity and thread of the story.

Surrouding Burnsed is a talented ensemble—Petra Ulrych, Suzanna Wellens, Tad Baierlein, Catherine Duquette, Thomas Borrillo, Eric Victor, Sally Diamond, and Ed Baierlein—all well-versed in the precise directorial style that defines Germinal Stage.

Each actor, other than Burnsed, takes turns reading the narrative passages, as well as contributing to the more than fifty different roles that populate the script, bringing insightful variation to Joyce's voice, resulting in a multifaceted tonal texture.

Sally Diamond's adaptable, authentic costumes draw on the dark wools of the period, supporting the undertones of both the striking red and blue 3-D lighting patterns that punctuate the hallucinatory scenes, and the hyper-realism of the sepia-toned baseline.

Germinal Stage Denver's remarkable production of Ed Baierlein's adaptation of James Joyce's "Circe" —Chapter Fifteen runs through July 11th. 303-455-7108.

Bob Bows


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