Monday, June 16, 2014

James Joyce at Union Station? It's Bloomsday

Posted By on Mon, Jun 16, 2014 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge The 2010 Bloomsday reading at the Irish Museum and Cultural Heritage Center, in Union Station.
  • The 2010 Bloomsday reading at the Irish Museum and Cultural Heritage Center, in Union Station.
Fellow former English majors, put on a pair of real pants (with zippers!) and take a break from softly sobbing over your liberal arts degree: Bloomsday is nigh.

Today, literary lovers will converge on the Kansas City Irish Museum and Cultural Heritage Center for the annual celebration of Irish writer and prodigious word-coiner James Joyce. (June 16 is when the fictional Leopold Bloom stumbles through the streets of Dublin in Joyce's Ulysses.)

In typical Bloomsday fashion, festivities kick off with readings from the novel, followed by a showing of the documentary Joyce to the World and a performance by Irish musician Eddie Delahunt. But the main event starts at 7 p.m.: a script-in-hand reading of Bloomsday: Dublin, 16 June, Lary Opitz' sometimes rollicking, sometimes moving stage adaptation of the novel.

"It gives you the highs and lows of Leopold Bloom's 24 hours," Kansas City Irish Center Director Nancy Wormington explains. "A visit to a brothel, a visit to the pub, a fun romp through Dublin."

And you don't need to be familiar with Ulysses to enjoy the show. "It's a great way to hear the story without slogging through the entire book," Wormington says. "It's a fantastic read. But some people find it intimidating, and this is just a lot of fun."

Did we mention there's beer? There's beer. The Irish Center has a wee pub on-site and serves up pints and Irish coffee throughout the night. After a couple of pulls of Guinness, even the most reluctant reader should be ready to toast the "heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit."

If you need another reason to attend, here's a good one: This may also be your last chance to see the play with local performer and director Sylvia Stoner-Hawkins at the helm. A Bloomsday fixture since Tom Shawver (of Bloomsday Books) began the local tradition 19 years ago, Stoner-Hawkins will soon leave Kansas City to serve as artist-in-residence at New York's Skidmore College. There's a poetic sense to it all: Skidmore is her alma mater, where she performed in Bloomsday: Dublin, 16 June for the first time as a college senior.

The cast, Stoner-Hawkins says, is a talented mix of equity actors, Bloomsday Books stalwarts and community representatives (Crosby Kemper III once again participates). "It's a nice group of people who have really lived with this literature for a while and can really serve the text."

What should a Bloomsday novice expect?

"To be shocked by the graphic language," Stoner-Hawkins admits. "But also to find themselves enrapt in the beauty of the text and the richness of the characters. It's very true to the life of people."

Admission is free for members of the KC Irish Center, $5 for everyone else. If a date asks you to go, borrow your answer from Molly Bloom's final soliloquy: "Yes I said yes I will Yes."

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