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Fringe the Morning After: Araby at La MaMa

In the real world—and not, say, in the Literature Department at Trinity College in Dublin—a James Joyce obsession is not something a girl has many regular opportunities to celebrate.  There’s Bloomsday every June.  And then… well.  That’s kind of it.  There’s not a lot of sitting around and analyzing the Penelope Episode of Ulysses, or regular, vociferous debate over the best lines in Dubliners.

So you can imagine my delight, being the sort of girl who has a painting of Joyce hanging on her bedroom wall, when I heard about Araby.  Playing at this year’s Fringe Festival, Araby is billed as a “chamber musical re-telling the short stories of James Joyce’s Dubliners,” which is actually fairly accurate, though right now it’s much more of a song-cycle in development than a fully-fledged production.

I ain’t mad at it, though.  And trust me; no one is more willing to be critical of something that fucks with the master than I am.  It’s just… there’s something there, you know?  The kernel of something great, a seed.

For each of the 15 short stories in Dubliners there is single song, performed by a small orchestra and a handful of vocalists with a bit of blocking thrown in.  For me, the stories I’ve always loved best—Eveline, The Dead—often made for the most powerful songs and performances, but I was shocked by how much I loved other numbers like A Little Cloud and After the Race, both based on stories I’m less attached to.

Other wonderful things:

  • Moments of Joyce’s original text interspersed with the songs are beautifully realized.   My favorite was in The Dead where haunting vocal rounds brought to life the image of snow “falling faintly…faintly falling” all over Ireland.
  • Carlos Ponton and Nancy Magarill are giving standout performances.
  • The excitement of realizing you’re witnessing the development of something that could be truly great.

I can’t imagine what will happen with Araby next, but I hope for so much more.  And if you love Joyce, or Dubliners, or literature and music in general, there are three additional performances this weekend that you can check out.

Photo: Rick Jungers

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