YES! Reflections of Molly Bloom

By Marilyn Lester. . .

Aedín Moloney (Photo: Carol Rosegg) . . .

James Joyce’s modernist, enigmatic novel, Ulysses, has been a source of fascination for almost a century—and no less so for actress Aedín Moloney, who brings one of the central characters of the book, Molly Bloom, to vivid life. Her one-woman tour de force performance of YES! Reflections of Molly Bloom is nothing less than Shakespearean.

Joyce completed this stream-of-consciousness reimagining of Homer’s The Odyssey in 1922, but the action takes place in one day, on June 16, 1904, as Leopold Bloom, husband to Molly, walks about Dublin on his various errands. Meanwhile, Molly, an opera singer of some renown, is having a tryst with Hugh Boylan, which Bloom is aware of. The couple’s sex life has been over for some time, so he’s willing to tolerate her dalliances. This recent memory is a catalyst for much of Molly’s later reflections.

It’s to Molly that Joyce gives the final word. The last chapter of the book is hers—a soliloquy, as she lies in bed next to Leopold in the early hours of June 17. Finding sleep allusive, Molly’s thoughts tumble out as she reflects on her life, loves and marriage. In characteristic Joycean style, the passage is 22,000-words long, broken into eight “sentences,” the last alone clocking in at 4,391 words. Moloney’s first and foremost task was to make Molly comprehensible. As written, the narrative can almost read like a foreign language. She’s succeeded admirably in the task with collaborator Colum McCann.

Moloney’s Molly, truthful to Joyce, is a sexual warrior for her time. Because of that, as well as other elements in the book, Ulysses was banned in the United States until 1933, finally freed to be distributed and sold by way of a court order. YES! Reflections of Molly Bloom was filmed in Miami, Florida, in a stark white bedroom, with an abundance of flickering candles adding a lusty atmosphere. Clad in a very low-cut chemise, Moloney delivers 75 astonishing minutes of unbroken dialog that starts with an emphatic “yes!” Joyce famously ended the soliloquy with a repetition of the word “yes,” but he began it with a repetition of the word, “no.” Molly begins with: “no that’s no way for him has he no manners nor no refinement nor no nothing in his nature slapping us behind like that on my bottom…” beginning her reflections with the memory of the day’s assignation with Hugh. Yet, on a deeper, philosophical note, that “no” is an ironic, “yes,” which Moloney has correctly intuited and used to dramatic advantage.

Moloney’s Molly is far from bed-bound. She’s a dynamo of raw energy, moving around the bed and the set sometimes undulating and slithering snakelike and sometimes like a caged animal. Her movements and cascade of bursting rambling thoughts are at times underscored or punctuated by incidental music composed by her father, the prominent Irish musician Paddy Moloney. Molly’s thoughts take her back to her childhood in Gibraltar, Leopold, the death of a child, her career, the men she’s known, with Moloney’s expressive face adding to the dynamism. Yet, this often hypermanic approach doesn’t always play well, coming off as a bit too stagy. In these moments Moloney loses the authenticity that she imbues in Molly in more considered moments.

Is YES! Reflections of Molly Bloom a feminist manifesto? Not really; no new feminist ground is broken, but the piece is a reassertion of a woman’s right to her own sexual humanity—even as her views are expressed through the lens of a Victorian man’s world. Says Molly, “I don’t care what anybody says; it’d be much better for the world to be governed by the women in it!” Molony quotes without alteration from Ulysses to end her soliloquy— the moment Molly knows she’s in love with Leopold: “and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.” On that final word, “yes,” Ulysses ends in a defining moment for Joyce, who considered “yes” the “female word.” In that, “yes” Molly is the Joycean heroine of “acquiescence, self-abandon and the end of all resistance.”

YES! Reflections of Molly Bloom was filmed (on an iPhone!) by Fernando Garcia, with sound editing by M. Florian Staab and video editing by Rory Duffy.

www.IrishRep.org – remaining dates – February 28 and March 3

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