It’s not necessary to have read Ulysses in order to be captivated by its heroine sharing what co-adapter Colum McCann calls “messy layers of… experience (that) get ordered and reordered… memories… imagination…the furthest side of desires…” This glimpse into Molly’s meandering mind as she waits through the night for her drunk, philandering husband Leopold “Poldy” Bloom is “yes” literary, but it’s also surprisingly cohesive, moving, humorous, entertaining and palpably lusty.
Be patient, this one doesn’t grab from the start. Aedin Moloney’s performance is so well honed/polished, it takes a few minutes before story takes over from stagecraft. 1904 Dublin. Molly Bloom – daughter, wife, mother, and adulterous lover – begins with recollections of an elderly prude out of her Gibraltar childhood, then lurches to recent sex.
“…there’s nothin’ like it, long and hot, down to your soul…He must’ve come three or four times with that tremendous red brick…” She sits, bends, undulates, “replays.” A once loose shawl is now tightly wrapped around each wrist. Molly’s bound. Later, the cloth is comfort, a tease, a Spanish dress sash…a peak.
We hear about when “they” met. (Husband and lover are sometimes indistinguishable.) “The splendid set of teeth he had made me hungry to look at them…He wants everything too quick and father waiting all this time for dinner…writing letters every day…” she sighs, whispers, exhales like a forced balloon. “Bloomin’ Bloom!”
Supine on the bed, hands behind her head, one leg provocatively bent to expose beneath her skirt; shifting like a cat in heat. And oh the laughter! “He might want to do it in the train by tipping the guard well,” she says, straddling the bed-arm backwards. One of the men has a fetish for “drawers.” Molly obliges. One suckles as if starving. “I think he made me firmer…” she strokes, pats, lifts, observes.
Teenage awakening to men, disdain for euphemisms used by priest and doctor, learning her feline power. “I tortured the life out of him.” Those who promised to come back, other broken promises…the loss of a child (wrenching), what might’ve been a singing career. Intermittent awareness of waiting. “Coming in at four in the morning, it must be or more…I still love to hear him falling upstairs…it’s a wonder I’m not an old shriveled hag living with Poldy…I’ll let him know his wife is fucked…serves him right…if that’s all the harm we ever did in this veil of tears…”
The play is a passion project for actress/co-adapter Aedin Moloney whose Molly is feminine, feral, hotheaded, exultant, and lonely. The artist seems stripped emotionally naked before us, as if she feels no amount of exposure will be sufficient. Accent, enunciation, vocals, graceful and fierce movement are pristine. “Yes” arrives in so many tones, one begins to think of it as different words.
John Keating, himself a splendid actor and regular cast member of Irish Repertory productions, here offers a directorial master class. Molly’s sensuality is at the root of every wistful or exhibitionist, Isadora Duncanish move. She inhabits the past as her own youthful self and others, sings, kind of dances, and employs a shawl with inspired creativity. Keating uses his small staging area with great skill and buoys the actress’s audacious presence. My single caveat is lack of an occasional pause to let us (and Molly) catch our breath between “episodes,” which would, I think, further engage.
Paddy Moloney’s music adds unobtrusive, emotional color.
Costume design (Leon Dobkowski) couldn’t seem simpler nor be more exactingly right.
Lighting by Michael O’Connor subtly enables.
The adaptation is immensely skillful but about fifteen minutes too long. It’s not that Moloney’s performance diminishes, but surprises have been spent. Acclimation makes us restless.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Irish Repertory Theatre presents
Yes! Reflections of Molly Bloom
From the novel Ulysses by James Joyce
Adapted for stage by Aedin Moloney and Colum McCann
Directed by John Keating
Performed by Aedin Moloney
Irish Repertory Theatre
Through July 17, 2022