The World in a Day Performance

| 20 Jun 2016 | 05:55

Here’s how James Joyce’s “Ulysses” starts:

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

More than a few people know that line. They could score points with it on Trivia Night at their neighborhood bar. Way fewer people read to the end. That would require sticking with it for almost 800 pages -- almost 800 pages dense with the details of just one day in Dublin.

Like readers of “Infinite Jest” or “Gravity’s Rainbow” or any Salinger book. who want to live in those books, readers of “Ulysses” want to live in it, too. They reread it. They read books about it. They buy various paperback editions of it. They join study groups about it. They go on YouTube and watch the movie version which I, a college junior, saw with my girlfriend-later-wife at an unlikely art house in South Bend, Indiana in 1967. They go to Dublin to follow the book’s footprints. They buy “Ulysses” T shirts at the Strand.

And if they’re lucky enough to live here, they go to Symphony Space on June 16 for Bloomsday on Broadway.

Leopold Bloom is the protagonist/hero of the book.

There are celebrations all around the world on June 16, the day in 1904 that the book’s about. Symphony Space has been doing it for 35 years, all because a Joyce fan named Isaiah Sheffer got it going and cared for it until his death a few years ago. It goes on still, guided by his spirit.

I went to it last week. I’d been to it maybe four times before. Why I don’t go every year is a testament to how unreflective we humans are. It had been a wonderfully stimulating time, each time.

If all they did was read “Ulysses” out loud on a stage, you wouldn’t go back, and it wouldn’t have lasted 35 years. So each year they do something fresh. Here’s what they did this year, in front of maybe 300 people who paid $25 to get in for the 7 p.m. start time: It began with eight to 10 actors in street clothes reading a digested version of Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” Perfectly read, perfectly coordinated for almost an hour. It could have gone on.

Next came eight to 10 actors (some the same as in the first performance) to read poems and letters and proclamations having to do with the Easter Rising in 1916. Two young women each sang a song that took your heart away. It too could have gone on longer than it did. People in the audience clapped with their hands above their heads.

When I say eight to 10 actors, that sounds generic, and nameless. Like neighborhood theater. Well, every single person on that stage was up to it, at the highest level. It’s New York, after all.

And next, more actors came out to join the ones we’d seen to read perfectly chosen parts from each of the 18 chapters of “Ulysses.” Wow. You even said wow to yourself out loud a few times. That could have gone on, too.

At this point you’re glad you live in New York, that you get to be there. But it’s 11:30 and you’re a sports fan and you don’t even know how the NBA game is going, so you can’t possibly stay for the show-stopping highpoint final act of the night, Molly Bloom’s soliloquy performed by Fionnula Flanagan. And you leave and walk across the street to the 96th Street subway station and there you go. Still floating a little from what you’ve just seen.