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Review: Gibraltar: An Adaptation after James Joyce’s Ulysses

Patrick Fitzgerald and Cara Seymour

Patrick Fitzgerald and Cara Seymour

On the one hand, there is James Joyce’s classic novel Ulysses, a book that has been described as a “complex masterpiece,” with its manifold overlapping themes, rich symbolism and a vast and colorful cast of characters.

On the other hand, there is Patrick Fitgerald’s play Gibraltar: An Adaptation after James Joyce’s Ulysses, to be presented Saturday at 5 p.m. at Plays and Players, which does something both brave and fascinating. Gibraltar plunges deeply and directly into what Fitzpatrick believes is the novel’s heart: the complex, bittersweet love story of protagonist Leopold Bloom and his wife Molly.

The play takes its name from the birthplace of Molly Bloom, played by Cara Seymour. Seymour actually plays several other roles, including the muse, her husband’s deceased Hungarian father Rudolf Virág, Gerty MacDowell (a young girl Bloom encounters on the beach), and, at one or two points, the Blooms’ cat.) Fitzgerald portrays Leopold Bloom. The play premiered in New York in 2010.

Artist Rob Berry and the crew of Throwaway Horse LLC, creators of the online comic Ulysses Seen , were instrumental in bringing the play to Plays and Players. (Read the blog post.)

I’ve previously owned up to my ignorance of Ulysses. And so I have to admit, I was looking to Gibraltar as a gentle, accessible introduction to Joyce’s Dublin and Leopold Bloom’s travels about the city on that single day, June 16.

And so, in some ways, it was just that. It’s not hard to get a grasp on the broad outlines and themes, although at times it can be hard to focus in on specifics because the lines, derived from the language of the novel, come fast and furious. Consequently, some of what transpires onstage is hard to follow.

Still, hang in there, Ulysses newbs, and you’ll catch snatches of Joyce’s language and you’ll gain precious insight into what makes at least these two characters tick—or as much as they themselves have been able to figure out.

It’s hard for me to imagine a more challenging acting assignment, but Fitzgerald and Seymour are more than equal to the task. Fitzgerald’s passion and energy shine through. He makes the stage, with its meager props—a bed, a set of stairs, some dishes and a tea kettle, a hatstand and a Victrola—seem much larger than it really is. We cease to see props; instead, we begin to see Leopold Bloom, his life and his world through the actor’s eyes.

Seymour is a revelation, particularly as she delivers Molly’s soliloquy. It’s from the final chapter of Ulysses, and it takes up most of the second half. The lines are delivered from a squeaky bed at the far right side of the stage—the bed Molly shares with Leopold. Seymour opens the window wide onto Molly’s fundamental humanity as the character takes stock of her life and her relationship with Leopold—reminiscences tinged with longing and regret. As the monologue continued, you could sense that so-called “fourth wall” actors talk about becoming ever more permeable and, finally, dissolving into thin air.

I would never suggest that Gibraltar is easy going. The Sound of Music, it is not. Still, as the week in which Bloomsday is celebrated comes to a close, take the opportunity to see what two very talented actors can do with Joyce’s challenging masterwork.

Ticket information.


Plays & Players
1714 Delancey Pl
Philadelphia, PA 19103


“Ulysses ‘Seen'” … A Comic Odyssey

Rob Berry at work.

Rob Berry at work.

As we walk from our meeting place at the Starbucks in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia to Rob Berry’s studio, just a few blocks away, Berry asks the question I’d been both anticipating and dreading: “Have you read ‘Ulysses?’” At which point, I came clean and admitted I hadn’t.

(Although, in my clearly woeful preparation for the interview, I had read the Sparks Notes.)

My ignorance of Irish poet and novelist James Joyce in general and his 1922 masterwork, in particular, apparently didn’t put Berry off. He seemed happy that I hadn’t tried to bluff my way through. He’s asked others the same question, and they’ve, well, lied. Berry himself admits he attempted to read the labyrinthine 265,000-word novel five times before he could make it all the way through.

Still, the fifth time was the charm. Berry got it—and he was hooked.

But perhaps even Berry could not have predicted where his Joycean passion someday might lead. Berry—with graphic and web designer Josh Levitas, Joyce scholar Mike Barsanti and several other equally talented colleagues—is in the early stages of publishing a Web- and iPad-based comic adaptation of “Ulysses.” Two chapters, complete with hypertext-linked reader’s guide, have been published on the Web site “Ulysses ‘Seen’.”

If you’re looking for a way to get a handle on this classic of modernist literature, with its allusions to Homer’s “Odyssey,” its rich symbolism and subtle nuances, “Ulysses ‘Seen’” might be just your ticket.

Leopold Bloom, as imagined by artist Rob Berry

Leopold Bloom, as imagined by artist Rob Berry

The project was hatched in June 2004, appropriately enough, in an Irish bar—The Bards at 20th and Walnut—during the Bloomsday Centennial. Bloomsday is the worldwide celebration of Ulysses, held every June 16, which takes its name from Leopold Bloom, who serves as Joyce’s Everyman. All of the events of “Ulysses” occur on that single day in Dublin.

“I was at a Bloomsday reading with a friend of mine who was a cartoonist,” Berry recalls, and talk turned to how “Ulysses” might be portrayed in film. “We were talking about how difficult it is to translate Joyce into other mediums. I was the one to say comics were ideally suited. Joyce uses the weight of visual symbols and he also uses a plasticity of time that you can’t put on film. What you are able to do with comics is to set a rhythm to it (the story) that’s visual, that allows people to know where they are.”

Some who listened to that argument weren’t so sure, and one of his fellow bar patrons bet Berry it couldn’t be done. “I wound up story-boarding 20 pages of ‘Ulysses’,” he says. “I won.”

The idea languished for a few years. in August 2007, at Berry’s wife’s urging, he submitted a snippet from Ulysses to the Philadelphia City Paper for its Comics Issue.

For help in scanning and translating his hand-inked cartoon into a Web-friendly graphic format, he turned to Replica, a high-end print and design shop, which is where Levitas worked. “That’s how I met Josh,” Berry says. “It turned out he actually lives on my block.”

From there, an idea that started out as a barroom bet began to take on a lot more substance. As he continued his wanderings among the “Joyce heads,” Berry met (at a Bloomsday festival) Mike Barsanti, a senior program specialist at the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and former associate director of the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia. He pitched the idea to Barsanti. Barsanti’s reaction was, perhaps, predictable. “At first, he thought it was the craziest idea he’d ever heard,” says Berry, “And Joyce scholars know ‘crazy’.” But the more they talked—over beers, and maybe the brews paradoxically helped lift the fog—the more intrigued Barsanti became, and in time he was on board.

Another partner, copyright attorney Chad Rutkowski—the one who bet that a comic version of Ulysses couldn’t be done—joined the project in 2008 following an encounter at The Bards. Rutkowski became the counsel and business manager for a new company called Throwaway Horse LLC. (Throwaway was the 20-to-1 winner of the Gold Cup race featured in “Ulysses.”)

In time, another passionate Joyce enthusiast joined the project: Janine Utell, former facilitator of the Ulysses Reading Group and Bloomsday coordinator at the Rosenbach, who teaches 20th century British literature at Widener University.

Like a lot of start-up companies, this one is mostly virtual. (Company meetings, Berry says, take place at the Black Sheep near Rittenhouse Square.) If Throwaway Horse can be said to have an “office,” it’s the Callowhill Street studio Berry shared with Levitas.

To reach it, you climb two flights of well-worn gray steps bounded by mustard-colored walls. The studio is a bright, cozy and somewhat cluttered cube, with scuffed white walls and, along one side, exposed brick. At the far end of the studio sits two desks, positioned so they face each other—one of them, covered by illustrations in progress, belonging to Berry; the other, dominated by a large flat-screen monitor, hard drives, a tangle of cables and a pen-and-touch tablet, where Levitas helps translate Berry’s work into an electronic format.

The wall closest to the door is dominated by a cluster of paintings featuring Captain America re-imagined in a wide assortment of characters—black, white, bearded, bespectacled, double-chinned, and one with dark purple lipstick. An equal opportunity Captain America. The theme continues on the wall up above Berry’s left shoulder, where a plastic Captain America costume mask hangs. And here and there, black-and-white comic panels on large sheets of sketchpad paper are tacked into the wallboard.

On the bookshelves, reference works like “Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist” and “The Book of a Hundred Hands” share space with ”The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh” and the Winston Graham crime novel “Marnie.”

Berry’s musical tastes are eclectic, too. The iPod is set on shuffle, and all the tunes reflect the artist’s diverse interests. It wouldn’t be unusual, Berry laughs, to hear Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” followed by Iggy Pop.

Before moving to Philadelphia in 2000, Berry had an enjoyed a successful career as an artist in Detroit, his easel paintings appearing in many galleries and shows. He says his paintings always followed a narrative style, in effect, telling a story. When he moved to Philadelphia, he says, “I didn’t want to do easel painting any more. The stories were becoming more important to me than the paintings themselves. I started to move away from paint to watercolor and ink drawing. It’s a faster medium to work in and better for print.”

For a time, he considered working in the world of mainstream superhero comics—not surprising, perhaps, for an artist who counts among his earliest creative influences the great comic artists Hal Foster (Prince Valiant), Burne Hogarth (Tarzan) and the immortal Jack Kirby (Captain America, Fantastic Four, X-Men and probably dozens of other comic creations).

Ultimately, though, the idea of creating longer-form stories was more appealing.

And then, in 2007, Steve Jobs and Apple introduced the iPhone. Berry knew things would never be the same, and he began to see creative possibilities on the Web, and—with the dawning of the iPhone—beyond. That’s when Berry’s thoughts about creating a comic version of “Ulysses,” which he had put on a back burner, popped back into his head again. “It all came back when I started to think about the digital page,” he says. “At that point I barely knew how to type. I knew that if I was going to reinvent, I was going to have to reinvent everything.

“I started to look at what had been done with CD-ROMs and hypertext. Hypertext (the presentation of intertwining text, graphics and other info on the Web) was a really exciting approach. With hypertext, you can go behind the page and go right to the reader’s guide. You can join a discussion from there.”

In 2009, Berry and his colleagues launched “Ulysses ‘Seen’” with the publication of the first chapter, “Telemachus.” In 2010, Apple introduced the iPad. In the same year—after a brief media-fueled dust-up resulting in changes to Apple’s prohibition against depictions of nudity and lots more attention to the project—”Ulysses ‘Seen’” became one of the first creative applications for the iPad. “We were geared to the idea that the iPad would come out,” Berry says, “and we would be ready.”

Interestingly, although “Ulysses ‘Seen’” appears in an electronic format, Berry creates the world of “Ulysses” by hand, his panels later scanned by Levitas. “I still use a brush. I still use water colors. It works for me.”

Overall, the process of creating “Ulysses ‘Seen’” is hugely time-consuming. Drawing on the 1922 version of “Ulysses,” which is in the public domain, the team plots out scenes and chapters, with multiple layers of review and re-review. It’s a comic, yes, but there’s an almost academic level of integrity to what the Throwaway Horse team is trying to do.

So, yes, it takes a long time, but the results are stunning. Berry’s renderings of characters like the unhappy Stephen Dedalus, for example, are almost three-dimensional and meticulously detailed. Dedalus fairly pops off the page, in all his unwashed misery, living out the nightmare from which he is trying to awake.

In at least one way, “Ulysses ‘Seen’” is following in the footsteps of the original, which was serialized. The electronic comic version, though, has a much longer timeline. “We’re expecting to be able to do two chapters a year,” he says.

Judging by the critical acclaim with which the first two chapters have been received, it’s well worth the wait.

You can share the Throwaway team’s enthusiasm for Ulysses this week as the Rosenbach hosts the annual all-day outdoor reading of “Ulysses” at its Delancey Place location on Thursday, June 16, from 12 noon to 7 p.m. Berry and Levitas are scheduled to read from 12:55 to 1.

Berry and company are also promoting “Gibraltar: An Adaptation After James Joyce’s Ulysses,” at Plays & Players, 1714 Delancey Place. Showtimes are:

  • Wed, June 15 at 7pm ($15)
  • Thursday, June 16 at 11am and 3pm ($15)
  • Saturday, June 18 at 5pm ($25)

Visit the Web site for more information.


Celebrating “Ulysses”

“Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”

~ James Joyce, “Ulysses”

His name is Hamlet, but his passion is “Ulysses.”


Lucky luncheon goers get up close and personal with Joyce's handwritten manuscript of "Ulysses," which is owned by the Rosenbach Museum. Director Derek Dreher holds the manuscript in the library, which remains dark to protect the books.

For the past seven years, Jim Hamlet, CPA, has served on the committee—two years as its chairman—that brings the marathon June 16 Bloomsday reading of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” to the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia.

“Ulysses,” considered one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century, chronicles one ordinary day—June 16—in the life of Joyce’s main protagonist, Leopold Bloom, a modern-day Odysseus who wanders the streets of Dublin, encountering character after character. Its 18 chapters each bear the title of one episode in the life and adventures of Homer’s epic hero, Ulysses, on which Joyce based his work.

While the National Library of Ireland is one of the major repositories in the world for all things Joyce, there’s a coveted, autographed, handwritten copy of the manuscript that calls the Rosenbach Museum home, making it particularly suited to hosting the yearly readings.

Hamlet, his late father, and his son, Michael, have been volunteer readers in past years. This year, he knew he was going to miss it because of an out-of-town work commitment.

So instead, the day before Bloomsday, he was tucking into steak and kidney pie—a tribute to the breakfast enjoyed by Bloom—and other Joycean-inspired dishes prepared by the chef at The Bards for a luncheon at the Rosenbach, sponsored by the John Henry Newman Foundation and Joyce’s alma mater, University College Dublin. Each year, the Rosenbach focuses on a theme related to the novel; this year’s was food, a logical choice for a book that’s a feast of words, many of them about food. Guest speaker for the luncheon was Professor Declan Kiberd, chair of Anglo Irish Literature and Drama at University College Dublin, who explores Joyce’s food themes in his book, “The Art of the Everyday in Joyce’s Masterpiece.”

Hamlet, who does audit work for the Rosenbach and several other museum clients, is keenly aware most people consider a CPA rubbing elbows with Joyce scholars as surprising as finding capers instead of raisins in your oatmeal.

“Most people ask me why I’m so dedicated to Ulysses because I’m a CPA and mostly English majors read the book, but I love Irish literature,” says Hamlet. He had read Joyce, but, he confessed, until he became involved with Bloomsday had never tackled the door-stop-sized “Ulysses” which is famously considered difficult to read, in part because of its stream-of-conscious form and the hundreds of puzzles and allusions that Joyce deliberately inserted “keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant,” guaranteeing his “immortality.”

But when Hamlet volunteered at the Rosenbach, he jokes, he felt he “had to” read the book, as daunting as it seemed. To make it a little less of the chore he thought it was going to be, he took a class with then University of Pennsylvania Joyce scholar, Vicki Mahaffey, PhD, author of “Reauthorizing Joyce” and “States of Desire: Wilde, Yeats, and Joyce and the Irish Experiment.”

“It took us eight months to read it, chapter after chapter, and Vicki helped us get the references and when we got to parts where we had no idea what was happening, she’d help us get over them. The best advice she gave us was ‘If you don’t understand it, keep going, keep going.’”

He was glad he did. Today he describes the novel that probably thwarts more than it impassions in the same way some people describe the latest Michael Connelly thriller. “It’s really a great yarn,” Hamlet says. “It has so many moving parts. Each chapter reflects the story of Odysseus, but what sets it apart is how he tied that story back to ordinary Irish life.”

And seven years of planning the Rosenbach’s Bloomsday festivities has altered how Hamlet looks at the book’s complexity. “In the past we’ve shown movies, had plays, and one year we had a dance troupe do an interpretive dance of the novel. If you think the book’s confusing,” he said with a laugh, “try looking at a modern dance interpretation.”


In Jersey, They’re Getting Ready to Re-Joyce

If James Joyce had envisioned a western-themed sequel to his classic novel “Ulysses,” it might have been called: “Leopold Bloom Rides Again. And Again, and Again, and Again.”

“Ulysses” is recalled by Joyce fans around the world (with Dublin as the observance’s epicenter) every June 16. It’s a tradition dating back many, many years.) The event is named after protagonist Leopold Bloom.

June 16 is the day in 1904 in which all of the events of “Ulysses” take place. Anyone and everyone who loves the Irish writer gets in on the act: Pubs do it. Museums do it. Probably educated (very educated) fleas do it.

In Philadelphia, the day has long been celebrated with a street fair sponsored by the famous Rosenbach Museum and Library on Delancey Place. (It’s set for Wednesday, June 16, between noon and 7.) There’s also a program called “Bloomsday 101” at Fergie’s Pub, 1214 Sansom Street, on Monday, June 14, from 6 to 8 p.m.

The Irish folks across the river are no strangers to Bloomsday. The immortal publican Billy Briggs hosted a Bloomsday reading for years at his landmark Tir na nÓg in Hamilton Township, near Trenton.

This year, the Dublin Square Pub in Bordentown is picking up on the tradition on Sunday, June 13, starting at 7 p.m. (following the weekly Irish music session) and lasting until 8:30 (or whenever).

Bill O’Neal, the musician who anchors the Sunday session (during the week, he teaches English at Trenton High School), says the idea was hatched by flutist and ER surgeon Dr. Nancy Ferguson, who also has a musical history at Tir na nÓg.

“Nancy’s done this before,” O’Neal said. “They did it at Billy Briggs’ place, but it’s been maybe eight years.” O’Neal says Ferguson suggested the idea to Dublin Square principal owner Michael McGeough back around St. Patrick’s Day. “Michael was raised in Dublin, so he thought it was a great idea,” O’Neal says.

Taking part in the reading will be Ferguson and her group An Fleadh Liteartha, which celebrates the Irish arts. Also scheduled to read will be Jack McCarthy III, a Princeton lawyer and author of “Joyce’s Dublin,” and Joyce scholar Lee Harrod. (Story-teller Tom Slattery might also make an appearance.)

It was Harrod, O’Neal says, who helped inspire his own love of Joyce. “Dr. Harrod was a teacher at the College of New Jersey,” he says. “I took a course on Joyce with him many years ago. After that, he invited me back to the class every year to sing songs from that period.”

O’Neal will perform songs at the Dublin Square event, too.

No one is completely sure how pub denizens will take to the reading, but, O’Neal says, “I think they’ll enjoy it. Most of them will probably wonder at first, what is going on here? But I know when they did it at Tir na nÓg, it went very well.”

Ready to get your Joyce on? Head to the pub on June 13. It’s at 167 Route 130. (609) 298-7100.



Bloomsday is the day on which protagonist Leopold Bloom made his “odyssey” through Dublin in James Joyce’s celebrated and controversial novel, Ulysses. Every year, the Rosenbach Museum and Library joins with Joyce lovers throughout the world to celebrate “Bloomsday” on June 16.

Hundreds gather on Delancey Place for this event, which features readings from Ulysses by notable Philadelphians from the steps of the museum. This year District Attorney Lynne Abraham, NPR’s Marty Moss-Coane and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell will be among the readers.

An exhibition of Joyce materials is also on view inside the museum, which is open to visitors all day.

For information, call 215-732-1600.


How to Celebrate Bloomsday in Philadelphia

On June 16 every year, millions of James Joyce aficionados around the globe flock to hear readings of their favorite Joyce work, “Ulysses,” which chronicles a day in the life of a Dublin man, Leopold Bloom. And Bloomsday is no ordinary day in Philadelphia either. After all, the city’s Rosenbach Museum houses a copy of Joyce’s original manuscript of the novel, which was widely banned in its day and continues to flummox college literature majors with its highly stylized form and language. This is not beach reading, folks.

But Joyce fans are like Deadheads (fans of The Grateful Dead, not Joyce’s short story, “The Dead)”: They love this book, possibly enough to camp out to get the best seat at the readings.

That said, there’s something for everyone in the city’s celebration of this literary landmark. You don’t even have to know how to read to go on a pub crawl. But to help you get up to speed, Fergie’s Pub at 1214 Sansom Street (owner Fergus Carey is a perennial reader at Bloomsday) is sponsoring a Bloomsday 101 at 6 PM on Friday, June 15, before sending you off for a pint at their bar or the following fine establishments with Bloomsday specials:

Irish Pub
1123 Walnut Street
$2.00 pints of Miller, Miller Lite, Bud, Bud Lite
$2.50 mixed well drinks

Nodding Head
1516 Sansom Street
Reasonably priced and great fries!

259 S. 15 th Street (corner of 15th and Manning, between Spruce and Locust Streets)
20 oz. mugs of Rolling Rock for $2.35

By then you should have boned up on another Joyce classic, the aforementioned short story, “The Dead,” from the book, “Dubliners. ” On Wednesday evening, June 13, at the Union League, 140 South Broad Street, barrister Brendan Kilty, who owns and has restored 15 Usher’s Island in Dublin–the setting for the story–will discuss the 1987 John Huston film version of “The Dead,” which will be screened following cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at 5:30 PM. Cost is $40. RSVP to Katelyn at 215-546-9422 or email her at

Kilty will also appear at a free screening of the film at 2 PM Friday, June 15, at The City Institute Library at 1905 Locust Street on Rittenhouse Square. No cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at this one.

On the day itself (Saturday, June 16), readers from all walks of life, including local TV personalities, politicians, and at least one publican, will read selections from “Ulysses” at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, 2008-2010 Delancey Place, starting at noon and going on into the evening. Rain location is First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, 2125 Chestnut Street. For more information, call 215-732-1600, email, or visit the website at The Rosenbach will also be exhibiting selections from the original “Ulysses” manuscript; the museum will open at 12 PM.

You’ll be “tirsty” after all of this literature, so head over to McGillin’s Olde Ale House at 1310 Drury Street where on Saturday night they’ll be having live music by Baby Brother and the High Five and offering a free beer to anyone carrying a book by Joyce with them. There will be no pop quizzes.