That tune the old cow died of
An enjoyable evening of all things Joycean at this year’s Bloomsday
The Celtic Knights of the Sea’s 2001 Bloomsday celebration proved a crowd-pleaser last Saturday night. For its sixth annual incarnation, the night of song, analysis and dramatic interpretation honoring Dublin writer James Joyce and his novel Ulysses was presented at the Park Tower Pavilion, rather than the Blue Room Theatre, as before.
“Bloomsday” comes from Joyce’s literary masterpiece, Ulysses. The word is not only a pun signifying the 24-hour period in the life of protagonist Leopold Bloom (June 16, 1904) described in the book, it is also the antithesis of “doomsday.” The word suggests an opening of sorts, a brief flowering of incident and insight, a day for all time.
June 16, 1904, had a more personal significance for Joyce; it was the day of his and wife-to-be Nora Barnacle’s first date. And so, Joycean scholar Frank Ficarra stated last Saturday night, Joyce’s comic novel might be a sort of elaborate valentine to Nora.
Highlights from the first half of the evening included an enchanting performance of Scottish poet Robert Burn’s ballad “Auld Lang Syne” by the Connolly Girls Choir. Local musicians Michael Cannon and Greg Taylor performed “Rising of the Moon,” a song mentioned in Ulysses, with Cannon noting wryly that Joyce didn’t like traditional Irish music, once referring to it as “That tune the old cow died of.” Following the rather slow piece, Cannon then devilishly slipped into two quick-paced trad tunes on his button accordion, Taylor ably accompanying on Celtic drum.
Educator Frank Ficarra offered further insight into the mysterious “man in the MacIntosh,” who keeps popping up in odd places throughout the novel. Ficarra suggested that the shadowy man is none other than James Duffy, the protagonist of the short story “A Painful Case,” in Dubliners. Ficarra proposed that the Duffy character might represent a failed version of Joyce himself—i.e., the man Joyce might have become had he not escaped Ireland and immersed himself in the world.
Retired CSUC fiction instructor Clark Brown enacted a monologue written by Flann O’Brien—basically a one-sided conversation with one Irishman attempting to talk a “fiver” out of his friend. Brown is no actor, but his vocal delivery was funny.
And lawyer Ken Roye recited humorous quips from Joyce: “I hear tell it was a nun invented barbed wire.”
The second half of the evening featured the best performances. Singer/guitarist Dan Valdez and fiddle player Dawn McConnell performed a beautifully folky version of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” Valdez’ voice impressing all with its resonance and range, McConnell’s fiddle alternately echoing and darting around the melody.
Steve Metzger’s adaptation of the “Christmas dinner scene” from Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man followed. Here, the young Stephen Dedalus takes in the bickering of his parents and their friends regarding politics, religion and so on. Joyce is a tricky creature to adapt, but Metzger did as good a job as possible, and the actors brought it off well.
But by far the most inspired presentation of the evening was this year’s take on “Molly’s Soliloquy” from Ulysses. In the book, this final section suggests Molly Bloom, wife of Leopold, lying in her bed and contemplating everything: from the previous day’s events to the fecundity of nature, all of it spiraling upward toward the climactic “first time” she and “Poldy” made love. The genius here was in having all four of the previous Bloomsday “Mollies"—Stephanie Starmer, Danielle Alexich, Naty Osa and Amber Miller—recite different parts of the monologue, approaching the brightly lit stage from four different places in the darkened hall, all speaking the punctuating “yes.” The four women came off as muses, their wisdom and passion slipped to us as casually as dreams. It was absolutely great.
Local lawyer Dennis Latimer served as emcee for the evening, effectively stitching together one performance or presentation with the next.