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. Janice Hall, who plays Gretta in QTC’s production, discusses the use of music in the show:
To whomever first had the idea of adding music to James Joyce’s short story, I say, bravo! The addition of music seems such a completely natural extension of this story, which is in part about the musical life, and how music colors and codifies our memories and experiences.
Most of my own life as a professional singer has been filled with music. These days, I often reflect on how lucky I’ve been to have, as a daily part of my life, what some people consider rare and precious experiences. I am constantly experiencing music: in performance, in rehearsal, or in my own head; music of all sorts, sometimes painstakingly rehearsed, sometimes brilliantly improvised. The musical patchwork of my life is for me reflected in the show I am currently rehearsing; in large part, James Joyce’s The Dead is the story of a musical life well-lived, and the joy and fellowship a life in music can bring.
Although James Joyce’s The Dead is classified as a musical, I like to call it “a play with music.” For me, a musical uses music to move the story forward, or to express a character’s inner emotional life. In this show, the music is used a little differently.
The show can be divided into three musical sections. The first section features songs sung by various guests at the Misses Morkans’ party, and the songs have little or nothing to do with the characters themselves, or with the plot. In the middle section, the songs begin to express more about the characters: Aunt Julia’s song, “When Lovely Lady Stoops To Folly,” points up her fragility, Gretta’s song “Goldenhair” begins her journey into memory, and “The Three Graces” is Gabriel’s toast to the party’s hostesses.
But only the three final numbers actually move the story forward. The reprise of Julia’s “When Lovely Lady” facilitates her transition into the spirit world. Gretta’s song “Michael Furey” tells the secret story of her long-lost love, and the final song, “The Living and the Dead,” uses Joyce’s beautiful text to express Gabriel’s thoughts and feelings about what he has experienced on this memorable, and possibly life-altering, evening.
Although the music in the show sounds like traditional Celtic music, it was nearly all written specifically for the show by Shaun Davey, with lyrics adapted from traditional songs and poems, or from Joyce’s text. In this way, it is a beautiful amalgam of the traditional and the new, which is also a theme in the show.
For me, the greatest thing about music is its ability to heighten any experience emotionally. The music in this show brings a new dimension to Joyce’s wonderful story, and it is a deeply moving thing.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve.