James Joyce’s The Dead, rehearsal blog 4 | Quotidian Theatre Company

Jane Squier Bruns

Quotidian Theatre Company opens its 15th Anniversary Season with its first musical, James Joyce’s The Dead. Richard Nelson and Shawn Davey adapt Joyce’s story about a family Christmas party and marry the story with music that draws from Irish tradition. Jane Squier Bruns, a longtime QTC mainstay, plays Aunt Julia:


I’ve had not a few double take reactions lately when, in response to the question of what I’m currently working on,  I’ve answered, “A holiday musical entitled The Dead .” To be more accurate, the correct title is James Joyce’s The Dead, which usually elicits further puzzled looks. After all, I never made it all the way through Ulysses, and I know a lot of people who are with me there. So I try to give a bit of background: “The Dead” is perhaps Joyce’s most famous short story; it was written in 1914 as part of his collection entitled Dubliners. It was made into an artistically-acclaimed film in the mid-1980’s that was the final film directed by John Huston and starred his daughter, Angelica Huston.  The work continued its evolutionary journey and in 1999 was adapted into the musical version with book by Richard Nelson and music by Shaun Davey. It had a very respectable run both Off and On Broadway and won the 2000 Tony Award for Best Musical Book.

And now, here we are at Quotidian getting ready to present it as our very first musical!

This is exciting and challenging! Doing an Irish accent is something I’ve done in several previous shows, but this time Director Jack Sbarbori wants a Dublin Irish accent. And the choreography rehearsals are so exhausting – and so much fun!  I doubt that we’ll ever become a threat to River Dance, but we’re learning to do an authentic Irish step dance. And then there’s the music – very Irish, very challenging  to learn.  As music inevitably does in a show, the more we work with it, the more it grows on you, and the more you come to just love it! And such a variety – from wild, energetic, patriotic songs to lovely, haunting melodies.  And the best thing is that we have such a group of talented singers, led by our wonderful guest leading lady from New York, Janice Hall – how lucky can we get?

So, the next logical question is, What does “The Dead” mean?  I don’t know, and I don’t know that Joyce ever felt he needed to explain the title.  We’ve had some interesting speculations among the cast as to exactly what it means but no conclusions. The story is not set in a cemetery but rather, at a family Christmas celebration; there are no séances and no gho…whoops!  But I don’t want to give anything away.  I’m very much enjoying getting to know Aunt Julia, the family matriarch and my character, and falling in love with her.  We actors are so lucky that we get to meet and become so many different people!

To all of us working on the show, “The Dead” means what our life is going to be filled with for the next 3 months.  Maybe folks will be curious as to what a holiday musical with that title is like – wow, are they in for a lovely surprise!

~Jane Squier Bruns


Quotidian Theatre Company’s production of James Joyce’s The Dead runs Nov 16 – Dec 16. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm, with one added 2pm performance on Saturday, Dec 15. All performances are held at The Writer’s Center: 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815. There is ample parking across the street (free on weekends), and the theatre is just five blocks from the Bethesda Metro Station on the red line. Tickets are $30, or $25 for students or seniors, paid for at the door by cash or check, please. Call 301.816.1023 or email quotidiantheatre@comcast.net to reserve.

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