The book is Ulysses by James Joyce. The play is Gibraltar by Patrick Fitzgerald, who has also acted in every previous production of it. It's a noble attempt to adapt the unadaptable, and there are some good things in it, but it just couldn't keep me interested much of the time.
I have never gotten through Ulysses, since I don't have much patience for ostentatiously erudite and obfuscatory writing (even though I'm guilty of it myself at times, like now). There is an awful lot to pick and choose from in it. Fitzgerald has chosen, to a rather large extent, those parts of the book that deal with bodily functions. Maybe he thought this was the best way to sustain a contemporary audience's interest.
He has dropped Stephen Dedalus almost entirely, and centers the play on Leopold and Molly Bloom. And on defecation, urination, copulation, menstruation, masturbation and ejaculation. Somewhere in all this, too, is the sweet sad story of love between a husband and wife in a marriage that cannot live yet cannot die.
To be fair, there are other things happening: We follow Leo as he gets out of bed, has breakfast, takes a dump (with sound effects), goes to a funeral (whose funeral it is seems unimportant), stays away from home the rest of the day so that Molly can have an afternoon liaison, goes to a pub where he gets picked on for being a Jew, goes to the beach where he masturbates while looking at a girl who gets a kick out of knowing that she is turning him on, and finally goes home. Then Molly gives her famous closing monologue.
You would think with all the scatological and sex stuff that this would be engrossing, but I found it wearying. However, as much as I found the play stultifying at times, I was absolutely awed by the acting. Brennan Foster and Sheridan Johnson, who were so exceptional a year ago in the wonderful Venus in Fur, again give tour de force performances and almost redeem the material. They both play multiple roles (Sheridan has at least six), they switch effortlessly between American and Irish accents, and are convincing in everything they do. And they're the only people on stage for more than two hours. Just the feat of remembering all this Joycean verbiage is amazing.
On top of all this, they directed themselves, in consultation with Victoria Liberatori and Jessica Osbourne. You would think that a play like this wouldn't have any tech at all, but in fact the sound effects and lighting add greatly to the production, and they are done very well by Josh Brown and Elyse Garlinger and Tom Epley.
The set, by Dean Squibb, is dominated by the Blooms' bed, which in the story has been shipped to Dublin from Gibraltar, where Molly grew up. The back walls are delicately painted in sepia to show a series of cliffs dropping down to the sea. Are they on the Irish coastline, or the rocks of Gibraltar? What's so brilliant about this is that it hardly matters whether we are looking at the past or the present, since they are inextricably bound together for Leo and Molly.
I feel in a quandary here. I recommend the play for the acting, but not for the play itself. If Gibraltar didn't have the cachet of "the greatest English-language novel of the twentieth century" behind it, I doubt if anybody would have produced it. If you are a Joyce fan, go see it. If you are not a Joyce fan, I don't think that this will convert you.
Gibraltar, a play by Patrick Fitzgerald, adapted from James Joyce's Ulysses, is being presented at the Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill in Albuquerque. Through April 27, 2014. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00. Info at auxdog.com or 505-254-7716.