Friday, June 10, 2011
Holles Street Maternity Hospital
Yesterday, T. Ryder Smith dashed over to The Radio Foundation in between performances for War Horse at Lincoln Center. He brilliantly performed an excerpt from the most difficult chapter of Ulysses, Oxen of the Sun. Stylistically, Joyce slaloms through the history of English literature in this episode and it is often the chapter where readers throw the novel against the wall in desperation. T Ryder Smith performed an excerpt written in the style of the seventeenth century poet John Milton as the drunken students chided Dedalus about his supposed sexual exploits.We were discussing how once you have the answer keys, the clues, to Joyce's references, stylistic choices, and plot points, the episode opens up like a beautiful flower and you breath it in. If you do the work to understand the text, and read it and then perform it, the experience is like having a conversation with a brilliant friend and finally understanding what he is saying. It's a rush of artistic and intellectual pleasure and understanding.
The episode takes place at Hollis Street Maternity Hospital where Bloom and Dedalus finally meet joining the drunken medical students as they all wait for the birth of Baby Purefoy. My first experience with Ulysses was a ten year old girl in Dublin waiting in the lobby of Hollis Street for my aunt to finish work. She was a matron at the hospital and would take me to see plays by my first literary heros Oscar Wilde and John B Keane starring those wonderful actors who shaped my theatrical consciousness like Robert O'Mahoney and Mick Lally. While waiting in the lobby, I would watch the tours of American tourists making their Bloomsday pilgrimage to the site of this most difficult episode as Joyce birthed his place into the consciousness of English literature alongside the long laboring Mrs. Purefoy.
On Monday, John Lithgow recorded another difficult excerpt from Oxen of the Sun, written in the style of Charles Lamb whose version of Ulysses, was Joyce's first experience with the Greek legend while a student at Belvedere College in Dublin. This year, several students at Belvedere are recording the Nestor episode of Ulysses as Stephen Dedalus tries to teach his students the John Milton poem Lycidas. Radio Bloomsday veteran Jim Fletcher, that fantastic performer of classic twentieth century literature, will be performing that Milton poem live from the WBAI studios on June 16.
The ethereal Kate Valk recorded the birth of Baby Purefoy for us a few years ago. This year, she reads an excerpt from Cyclops with Jim Fletcher and one of my favorite WB Yeats poem's The Stolen Child which had the whole studio in rapt attention as she performed it. Join us only six days away and listen in live to Radio Bloomsday on WBAI in New York City and KPFK in Los Angeles and on wbai.org anywhere in the world.