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New play is based on James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’

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The fractured relationship of Leopold and Molly Bloom forms the emotional nucleus of James Joyce’s mammoth “Ulysses.”

Sheridan Johnson, left, and Brennan Foster are Molly and Leopold Bloom in “Gibraltar,” based on James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” (Courtesy of Russell Maynor)

Sheridan Johnson, left, and Brennan Foster are Molly and Leopold Bloom in “Gibraltar,” based on James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” (Courtesy of Russell Maynor)

Irish playwright Patrick Fitzgerald has pruned and distilled Joyce’s 265,000-word novel down to the core of their marriage in “Gibraltar,” opening at Albuquerque’s Aux Dog Theatre as part of the Southwest Irish Theatre Festival on Friday, April 11. Fitzgerald will be at the theater for five to seven days and will present his adapted version of “Finnegan’s Wake” on an unscheduled date. The Albuquerque production marks the western state premier of “Gibraltar.”

Aux Dog producer/artistic director Victoria Liberatori chose the play driven by her own fascination with Joyce, as well as the chance to showcase actors Sheridan Johnson and Brennan Foster, recently acclaimed for their performances in “Venus in Fur.” Both actors will play a multiplicity of roles in “Gibralter,” as well as the key characters of Leopold and Molly.

“The two of them are an incredible acting duo,” Liberatori said. “I knew it would be an incredible vehicle for them. It’s an incredible tour-de-force.”

Liberatori has been fascinated by Joyce since she spent an entire semester studying “Ulysses” in college. Fitzgerald has said he felt compelled to stage the author’s stream-of-consciousness wordplay in order to understand it.

Leopold Bloom is an advertising salesman who is much older than his wife Molly, a former singer.

“They’ve lost a child and they have not had an intimate relationship in 10 years because they couldn’t handle the tragedy,” Liberatori said. “So it’s about a love relationship on the rocks.”

The actors capture a constellation of characters through voice, movement and gesture as Bloom’s day unfolds into encounters with a newsboy, a pharmacist, a bookseller, an Irish republican and more.

Initially banned for its sexual and scatological content, in 1998 “Ulysses” was ranked first on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Liberatori cautioned that the play is not recommended for anyone 16 and younger.

In the end, Leopold decides to win Molly back by allowing her to have an affair while he travels throughout Dublin.

“When he returns, he realizes she will take him back because she’ll realize how much he loves her.”

Molly emerges from a dream state through the serene rapture of a soliloquy as she remembers Leopold’s marriage proposal, the word “yes” pulsing like a heartbeat.

“Gibraltar” was first performed in New York in 2010.

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