One of the best acting performances currently on stage in New York can be found at the Irish Repertory Theatre, which is presenting “Yes! Reflections of Molly Bloom,” based on a section of James Joyce’s landmark novel “Ulysses.” Aedín Malomey is bringng to life one of the most famous of Joyce’s passages in “Ulysses”—the “Yes” soliloquy by Marion “Molly” Bloom that reflects the frustrations, sexual hunger and an onrush of feelings bursting with the need for fulfillment as a woman.
Maloney’s performance is phenomenal as she takes the stage alone for 75 minutes and explodes with Joyce’s expressive language, with no holds barred. Under the direction of Kira Simring, Maloney, tall and striking looking, roams Molly’s bedroom as she pours out Joyce’s provocative lines, her sexy body language underscoring what she is communicating to herself as well as to the world. Maloney commands complete attention as she fiercely, often with humor, describes Molly’s thoughts and longings.
The candor, including exposing her breasts at one point, is such that the Irish Rep has decreed that audience members must be at least 16 to be admitted.
The history of Joyce’s novel being banned but ultimately cleared in 1933 for publishing in the United States by court decision is a story in itself. When director Joseph Strick’s movie “Ulysses” was released in 1967, it also ran into censorship problems. His film included part of Molly’s soliloquy, poignantly performed by Barbara Jefford, and the explicit words spoken broke new ground in cinema.
The current staging of “Yes!” is an adaptation by Moloney and Colum McCann and is being presented by the Irish Repertory Theater in association with Gabriel Byrne. It takes place in Dublin in the early hours of June 17, 1904, in the bedroom of Molly and her at-the-moment absent husband, Leopold Bloom. The no-frills flat set has been designed by Charlie Corcoran.
Molly’s marriage to Leopold has cooled, and she has been having an affair with Blazes Boylan. She hungers for the kind of sex she has with him and muses about it. She talks explicitly about body parts and sensuality. As important as sex is to her, the overall impression is of a woman who needs to be liberated from restrictions and male attitudes toward the clichéd kind of person a woman is supposed to be. The soliloquy is Molly’s symbolic outcry for total freedom and Moloney is simply wonderful in conveying aspects of Molly and her psyche inherent in Joyce’s perceptive writing.
Maloney’s performance can be studied by other actors as an example of how to dig down and find the deep meanings in a complex character. When she gets to her climactic repeated breathy declarations of “Yes!” to punctuate her emotions, the effect is shattering, all the more so because the audience is close to her in the small W. Scott McLucas Studio Stage, downstairs from the main theater. When Maloney makes Molly come vividly alive, it is as if we are right in that Dublin flat with her. At the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-727-2737. Reviewed June 23, 2019.