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'O the Music' and Poetry and Frivolity of Bloomsday

Dubliners will celebrate all things Joyce on Sunday, with pub visits and recitations. Closer to home, the Celtic Arts Center will host a three-hour bash.


Sunday is Bloomsday, the favorite holiday of every lapsed English major.

The biggest, most authentic celebration is in Dublin, where men dress up like James Joyce in Borsalino hats and wire-rim spectacles to re-create the odyssey of Joyce's Leopold Bloom through his "dear, dirty Dublin" on June 16, 1904.

Most of the people whooping it up have never even finished "Ulysses," the epic novel that Joyce wrote in exile in Paris, Trieste and Zurich, with a street guide to Dublin close at hand. If the Irish city were ever destroyed, Joyce used to boast, it could be rebuilt solely by referring to his book.

Ireland once despised its native son, for his rejection of his Roman Catholic faith and for writing all that filthy stuff about Molly. But all has long since been forgiven. Present-day celebrants start with a Bloomsian breakfast of kidneys and other repellent organ meats. Joyce's poetic prose is recited. Pubs are crawled, then on to lunch at Davy Byrne's (Joyce's unlikely Jewish ad salesman hero had a Gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of burgundy). Phone-book-sized paperbacks in hand, celebrants flock to the Martello Tower, where in the novel we first encounter "stately plump Buck Mulligan," simultaneously shaving, saying Mass and acting out Irish history and Greek mythology. Pilgrimages are made to Night Town and the site of the Joyce home at No. 7 Eccles St., where a hospital now stands. It's not literary, exactly, but it's good, intellectually pretentious fun.


Joyce was a man who could play in several languages, and he probably wouldn't be offended that people continue to "reJoyce" (as a Wall Street Journal headline writer could not resist putting it) in his still stunning and stunningly modern work, published in 1922. And this year, you don't have to go all the way to Dublin to celebrate. Sunday there will be a three-hour Bloomsday bash in North Hollywood, sponsored by the Celtic Arts Center.

The flier describes the event in the style of the master: "an evening of staged readings yes from James Joyce's Ulysses yes and poetry yes and O the music and refreshments yes." As coordinator Adrien Rain Burke explains, the evening will not be nearly as grand as the 24-hour marathon readings of the book that have been held at other times and places. But those who attend will be able to eat soda bread and see and hear such much-loved sections of the book as the goings on in Night Town and Molly's frank and lovely closing monologue.

Hearing Joyce is key, in Burke's view. "I never read 'Ulysses' in its entirety until I came to the Celtic Arts Center," she recalls. "I had, of course, read the last chapter when I was about 19, and I can't say I didn't enjoy that. But I didn't love it until I heard it."

In directing the staged portion of the program, Thomas Richard Ryan hopes that his more theatrical presentation will make the work more vivid and visceral than the standard actor-and-podium approach. His cast of seven will have scripts in hand, but they will carouse at an actual bar when re-creating the shenanigans at Kiernan's pub, for instance, complete with stools and glasses of Guinness.

Ryan recently reread what many consider the grandest book of modern times and was struck not just by Joyce's ambition and lyricism, but by his explicitness and his impishness. As Ryan reminds, Joyce once bragged, "I'll keep scholars guessing for centuries!"

* The evening starts at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Raven at 5233 Lankershim Blvd. Tickets are $7. For information, call (213) 462-6844.

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