A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man 

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, StreetSigns, at Facets Multimedia International Performance Studio. A complete, faithful, theatrically satisfying stage adaptation of James Joyce's autobiographical novel is probably impossible. As soon as you start cutting his magnificent prose you've changed the work utterly. So adapter/director Derek Goldman and company set out to "violate...the 'purist' approach," and they've succeeded admirably--maybe too admirably, slashing away much that's concerned with Joyce's (and Stephen's) internal battle with Ireland and Catholicism, filling their Portrait with dance-theaterish reveries. It's enough to send a die-hard Joycean screaming into the middle of Fullerton.

Still, much of Goldman's adaptation works. Having two men and a woman play Stephen is simply brilliant, though I have no idea why it works. Likewise Goldman's edited version includes all the really important scenes--Stephen's epiphany watching the birdlike girl bathing in the sea, for example--though not all are acted equally well.

Goldman is on surest ground when he's dealing with Joyce's early sections of playful prose--for which the chamber-theater tradition seems tailor-made--and when he's grappling with Joyce's ideas. In fact he begins the play with a speech Stephen gives three-quarters of the way through the novel spelling out his theory of art. But Goldman falters whenever Joyce, in true Irish fashion, becomes emotional or sentimental or both. As a result what could have been a truly moving, satisfying adaptation--faithful or not--is sometimes reduced to a mere academic exercise.

--Jack Helbig


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