“The Dead, 1904” is agonizingly beautiful

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How it’s New York: This immersive theater adaptation of James Joyce’s novella, “The Dead” takes place at The American Irish

Photos by Carol Melissa.

Historical Society at 991 5th Ave, New York, New York.
How it’s Irish: Another stunning production from The Irish Repertory Theater.

This Christmas production began last year and continued through this one. It sells out fast, so we hope this will give you some ideas for next year: this review came in at the very end of the run.

 

“The Dead, 1904,” based on James Joyce’s novella, portrays an Ireland haunted and paralyzed by its past. Adapted by Paul Muldoon and Jean Hanff Korelitz, the play is in its second seasonal year at the Irish American Historical Society. Director Ciaran O’Reilly’s original and innovative staging brings to vivid life an evening of musical entertainment hosted by the elderly Morkan sisters (Patricia Kilgarriff and Patti Perkins) in their Dublin home for their annual epiphany festivities. As their guests, the audience joins in the merriment, and is lead through toasting, singing, dancing, and poetry and finally to a feast. Dinner, inspired by the holiday fare described by Joyce, includes marinated beef tenderloin, ‘floury’ potatoes and cranberry and pineapple relish, served on fine china and accompanied by wine in crystal glasses.

Set half a century after the potato famine and sixteen years before the Irish uprising, “The Dead, 1904” conveys the limbo of its characters amid the remnants of a melancholy and painful past. Beneath the present exuberance lie the conflicting aims of a return to the old days versus the fierce desire for a new Irish nationalism represented by Miss Ivors (Aedin Moloney).

Gabriel (Rufus Collins), the Morkans’ nephew and author of a conservative editorial column, arrives late to the party. Gabriel is stuck between the opposing sentiments attached to the old and the new. His is a world of inaction and staid passions, which his wife’s gaiety (Gretta, as played by Melissa Gilbert) seems to accentuate. Comic relief is provided by the provocative antics of Mr. Brown (Peter Cormican) and Freddy Malins (James Russell), an incorrigible reveler, who opine on politics and the quality of the entertainment. As the evening comes to a close in the early hours of the morning, the audience is invited upstairs to the bedchamber for an intimate scene. Gabriel and Gretta are finally alone. A steady, unending snow against the window pane sets the stage for Gretta’s recollection of a distant, agonizing memory from her youth. Touched by his wife’s still profound grief, Gabriel is moved to feel a deep love for Gretta and what it means to be alive.

“The Dead, 1904,” is a wonderful way to experience the world of Joyce’s turn-of-the-century Dublin. Let’s hope that the play’s producers are planning a reprise for the 2018 holiday season.

 

 

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