Bloomsday: A Tragicomedy by David B. Lentz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Fledgling at Play
I read this play, momentarily unaware that it was actually a companion to a fully-fledged novel.
This might turn out to be fortuitous, because if I had read both works in reverse order, I might have been tempted to treat this work as secondary, instead of a creative act that stands and succeeds on its own merits.
As you would expect with a play, the dialogue is the chief mode of communication with the reader.
It’s possible that it is a distillation of the dialogue from the novel. However, there is no sense of it being disjointed or culled down from a greater whole. In fact, it propels forward like a very fast train or a jet fighter.
I read it in one sitting, and upon putting it down, could only find it in myself to say, “Wow.”
Extrapolation, That’s the By Word
“Bloomsday”, as the title suggests, is an extrapolation on James Joyce’s “Ulysses”.
Structurally, it takes Episodes 14, 15, 16 and 18, and transposes them in place and time to Boston in 1974.
It’s not readily apparent why David has chosen this era, except that for many of us alive today, Vietnam represents our closest cultural experience of coming home from a long and winding war, apart from the excursions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran (which, for those who remember, don’t have the same resonance as the war that divided almost every first world country and transformed culture and politics forever).
So 1974 mightn’t be contemporary, but it is as symbolic as the Trojan War was to Homer and Joyce.
At its heart, “Ulysses” doesn’t just describe a city (Dublin), it describes a family.
At a more macro level, it describes a nation at war with England and internally within itself.
I suspect David selected Boston, not just because he resides there, but because it received a large proportion of the Irish emigrants who arrived in America in the nineteenth century.
It therefore makes it a likely destination for the descendants of Leopold and Molly Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, who feature in the play.
“Bloomsday” therefore perpetuates Joyce’s concerns into the twentieth century and, by inference, to today.
A Play on Words
If “Ulysses” is the grandparent, “Bloomsday” is a legitimate grandchild.
Just as the play is not an inferior distillation of the novel, it is not a dilution of the creativity of Joyce.
It’s a courageous act to stand up and ask to be measured against Joyce or “Ulysses”, but I think David has succeeded in this work.
It’s a work rich with wit, punning, wordplay and wisdom.
I can indulge in this wordplay in short, sharp exchanges, usually with another swordsperson or fencer, but I doubt whether I could sustain the effort so successfully for over 100 pages.
Besides, spontaneous exchanges are intrinsically ephemeral.
David’s words are not just designed to endure, they are intended to be spoken by live actors on the stage.
It’s the quality of work that should become a mainstay of every Bloomsday.
An allusion isn’t just a dry reference to something. Its etymology reveals that it derives from the Latin word, “alludere”, which means "to play, sport, joke, jest."
“Bloomsday” is so rich with allusion, it’s difficult to track its inspiration.
I felt that its feet were grounded in the Bible, Shakespeare and, obviously, “Ulysses”.
But David’s notes also mention Poe, Hemingway and Frost.
The more you look, the more you find. And it’s all gold, no fool’s gold. Except to the extent that, in this work, everybody plays the fool.
Men and Women of Good Fortune
As with “Ulysses”, the apparent focus of “Bloomsday” is men, in this case Rudy Bloom and Dr Thomas Dedalus, descendants of the protagonists of Joyce’s novel.
Yet, as with “Ulysses”, it builds to a climax that is shared with women, if not wholly concentrated on them.
“Ulysses” might be construed as a romance with Dublin at the centre, but it is also a love letter to Molly Bloom and womanhood.
David extrapolates on this theme, and makes “Bloomsday” a celebration of women or woman as lover, wife, muse and mother.
There could be no creation unless a child was first born of a woman.
From that point onwards, Men play, ultimately, not just to please themselves, but to impress and/or seduce Women.
Having seduced a good Woman, “Bloomsday” might just reflect Man’s effort to deserve, retain and maintain that Woman.
In a way, “Bloomsday” is David’s way of saying thank you to the women in his life and in ours.
For the rest of us males, he is our Cyrano de Bergerac (by which I don’t mean that he has a big nose).
David supplied a copy of this play to me for review purposes.
I guess this makes me Christian de Neuvillette and you, if you are a woman, Roxanne.
If only this joint effort could be as successful as Christian Grey.
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