SLC Theatre Department Presents: Dubliners

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There was a moment in Dubliners when two characters met at the front of the stage, reciting a line from James Joyce’s final story of the collection, The Dead. They gazed at each other, joined by Joyce’s beautiful language, generating a strange, brief intimacy that felt directly channeled from the original story.

Meanwhile the rest of the ensemble quickly transitioned into a moving, noisy replication of a car.  The noises of the car grew louder until suddenly, the cast seemed to explode, and instantly reform themselves into a detailed dynamic scene of a party.

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Adapting Joyce’s Dubliners is a potentially daunting prospect, in part because it relies so heavily on its phenomenal descriptions.  The beautiful and immensely detailed physical world Joyce creates is as important as the character’s living in it. Joyce’s specificity of the setting of Dubliners is one difficult to recreate theatrically. It is the cast’s ability to both portray the intimate humanity of Joyce’s characters and turn themselves into the stories’ physical backdrop, which makes the production a success.

When director Sarah Plotkin talks about the rehearsal process, it is clear that the cohesiveness of the cast is in part due to the devised, collaborative nature of the piece.

“We worked a lot with play… A lot of the show was choreographed which came out of improvisation.   We spent two full weeks using minimal text…we’d spend half the rehearsal working physically and half the rehearsal analyzing the stories so that we really understood them… I would give them a theme like escape, and they would work around that theme to build materiel, or just to explore relationships… it was about creating the ensemble and creating character.”

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It is an unconventional and brave approach to such a historically revered piece of text. While it is clear that Miss Plotkin has deep reverence for the original stories, the play is a vast departure from their liner narratives. Sometimes the experimental nature of the piece’s composition leads to confusion. It’s a piece that takes many risks, some of which don’t quite land. However the fact that the play isn’t trapped by the original text is one of its strengths. While sometimes the narrative is sacrificed, the beauty, and intense humanity of Joyce’s stories is resonant throughout the play. The play clearly isn’t afraid of the weighty text it’s based on, which over all allows for a more interesting and alive reimaging of the piece.

The moments of individual character are funny, moving, and well executed, and the ensemble’s ability to function as the immensely complicated machine of Joyce’s claustrophobic world is truly impressive. Dubliners is an enigmatic piece, charged with life, imagination and humanity.

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Photography by Amit Sankaran

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