A review of Judith Mok’s Molly Says No!  from Lucy Healy-Kelly

How It’s New York:  When she performed in this, June 16th, Bloomsday, was fast approaching and the annual wave of Joycean events are taking place both in Ireland and internationally. More treats for New York Ulysses fans include the Irish Arts Center’s Bloomsday Breakfast in Bryant Park, Eilin O’Dea’s Hello Molly! and Symphony Space’s 30th Marathon Celebration

How It’s Irish: Writer and Soprano Judith Mok takes one of Ireland’s most famous literary heroines and gives her a new voice of her own. Though Mok is Dutch, she has called Ireland home for many years. ‘Molly Says No’ was originally commissioned for the Joyce Centenary celebrations in Dublin in 2004.

‘I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls’ opens Molly Says No at the New York Public Library of Performing Arts at the Lincoln Center. It is a lush performance, but our Molly trails off abruptly, declaring “I swear if I have to sing that bloody thing one more time I’ll scream!” This irreverence puts us on familiar territory, with a character who has become famed and beloved for her gutsy, no holds barred soliloquy in the final chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses.

In this hour-long dramatic recital, Mok gives a new voice to Molly Bloom – the woman who, until 2001, is best remembered for voicing the longest “sentence” in English literature. Despite the fact that Joyce devotes this unprecedented literary feat solely to the thoughts of this one character, what we learn of Molly is of course the author’s voice, and Molly is the Penelope to our real protagonist. In Molly Says No, Mok is a flesh and blood Molly, embodied through an engaging and well-paced hour of music and monologue.

Molly reminisces on her youth in Gibraltar, dreaming of music and fame. This sun-drenched youth sets up her musings on the greyness of her home of Dublin, however, and she displays a contempt for her female contemporaries, “waiting to die in the city.” Molly by contrast is vital and craves the sensuosness, light and warmth which Ireland has in such short supply. But it is love of Bloom of course that has her there, and though Blazes Boylan does get a passing mention, she does conclude of her husband, with a grudging fondness, that “he is better than a lot of them”.

Familiarity with Molly’s Soliloquy make it hard to resist approaching this as the companion piece as which it is indended, and for the Ulysses-aholics in the audience there are many opportunities for a knowing chuckle. But Molly Says No is more than just referential fun, and as it segues with ease from soliloquy to song it more than stands alone. It presents its own substance too, particularly in the themes that her new soliloquy interestingly examines; exploration of Molly as wife and mother but also as a serious artist and professional singer – as the programme states, “a complex modern woman in a male world.”

These themes are well illustrated by the chosen songs, and it is when singing that Mok really comes into her own. Mok is an artist with many talents (more information about her here, and a podcast interview is coming soon!) It is an easy transition to imagine her formidable soprano as Molly’s. A feisty rendition of Bizet’s Habanera seems particularly appropriate for this daughter of Spain, an independent woman drawn by the romance of the Gitano gypsies. She is accompanied throughout on piano by Dearbhla Collins and the pair establish an entertaining rapport. As Molly herself drifts from Spain to Ireland, it was however Mok’s a capella version of She Moved Through The Fair that received an awe-struck response from the audience. In a Spanish piece redolent of Portugese Fado (again performed a capella), she movingly laments the death of her infant son Rudy and we see a softer, more vulnerable Molly.

Mok inhabits Molly well, with a talent, earthiness and wisdom which portrays her in the three dimensions which this piece sets out to illuminate. Molly Says No gives this character a defiance and a richer, more indepedent life of her own. But this is still a portrait of a determined, positive and capable woman. Despite the repudiation of the title, in its own way it still leaves you admiring that same woman who said Yes I said yes I will Yes.
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