This Sunday, June 16 is Father's Day, but Irish scholars know that it's also Bloomsday, the annual literary celebration named after Leopold Bloom, the hero of James Joyce's most famous novel Ulysses
This month actress Aedin Moloney is playing Molly Bloom at The Irish Rep in "Yes! Reflections of Molly Bloom" the new show she co-adapted with novelist Colum McCann.
“I read Ulysses as a teenager and came back to it in my twenties and I just thought, God this woman's interesting,” Moloney tells the Irish Voice. “She sounded like my mother, so that part of Ulysses just felt really familiar to me. I was always drawn back to it again and again.”
“Then about 15 years ago Colum started that Bloomsday celebration at Ulysses pub down on Stone Street in the Financial District. He invited me along to it and said here read a bit of Molly, and it just took off from there.”
Hailing from Dublin and daughter of Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains, Aedin allowed New York audiences to hear Joyce's miraculous work of art as it is intended, in the voice of an Irish woman, completely free of all censorship or opprobrium (there was plenty of the later when Ulysses was finally published in the early 1920's).
“One of Colum's greatest influences is Joyce and he's passionate about Ulysses as well,” Moloney continues. “And so this play began back then with a friendship and a shared passion for Joyce's work. Colum has always encouraged me to record my Molly Bloom readings and create a piece based on them. Finally, it's happened and it was a joy to create.”
In recent years there has been a move to celebrate Bloomsday and Ulysses in the long-ago fashions of 1904, with empire-line skirts for the women and straw hats for the men.
But Moloney thinks Joyce's literary achievements and Molly's words transcend their place and time, so from the get-go, the look and feel of her new production was in search of a timeless quality that could play out almost anywhere or any place in human history.
This production seems to be happening in Molly's head, but the lucid stage design also suggests that it could be the ethereal deep blue dreamscape of Picasso's Two Women Running On The Beach or perhaps the original cover of Ulysses itself, a celestial blue that Joyce wanted to match with the color of the Greek flag.
“It all just flows,” says Moloney. “When I'm performing it onstage it's like a piece of music. I think Molly Bloom was a feminist. I don't know how Joyce actually created such a feminist character, but he did. And you know, on the bigger picture of what he was trying to say I think it's about the passage of time and aging and what is our purpose in life?”
To exist is a very mysterious thing, Ulysses reminds us. Molly's long speech explores art, nature, literature, sex, love, desire, infidelity, jealousy, nationality and on and on. It's a deep dive into what makes us human and what in our everyday humanity can make us divine.
Molly's speech is also about forgiveness, deep enduring forgiveness, for human folly and frailty. Joyce was among the most liberal of intellects, and although his forgiveness is hard won it is also sincere and its in evidence in every line here.
Molly laughs at the little antics of men, at their vanity and selfishness, at their malice and spite. She sees them and she sees through them and she laughs at them and forgives and she often even likes them. It's the whole of life and existence in the persona of one woman, as narrated by a man. Perhaps that's why it feels very complete.
Joyce gave the last word in Ulysses to a woman – well, all 25,000 or so of them actually – and what Molly Bloom does with those words is nothing less ambitious than conjure up the sweet mystery of existence.
It's a rich gift to world literature from a writer widely regarded as the true successor to William Shakespeare.
“What do we have when we have nothing else? We have life and life is precious,” says Moloney. “When Colum jumped on board to help prepare this show we just had a great time working on it. Just polishing and refining and you know trying to bring out the humor a little more. But the words are all Joyce's words.”
Onstage Moloney wears a simple off white dress that suggests Greek drama more than Northside Dublin in 1904, and in doing so she rescues the piece and the book from its old-time date stamp.
In an inspired design stage design by Charlie Corcoran we seem to be in a Neo-classical setting where the color blue predominates against the stones at key moments. It's a place between places in other words, in keeping with Joyce's text and Moloney's inspired all-electric performance.
“I dedicated this entire show to my mother and my grandmother," says Moloney. "My personal goal is to bring as much grace into it as I possibly can and as much realism and who I am into it as I can. I think I am a part of Molly as I think every woman is.”
In the meantime, Moloney will make a brief appearance at Ulysses pub again this Sunday, the place where her friendship with McCann set her out on the road to this unmissable show.
“Bloomsday at Ulysses pub on Stone Street usually happens during the day, but now that I'm in the show I have a matinee that Sunday at 3 P.M. So this year we're going to start at like five or six in the evening. It's a very relaxed and happy event, it's just a coming together of people who get it and those that don't get it, get it after. Everyone's welcome!”
For tickets to Yes! Reflections of Molly Bloom call 212-727-2737.