Once upon a time and a very good time…

James Joyce’s classic novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is being brought to the stage by the Department of English Language and Literature in C Block Auditorium, 13, 14, 18 December. "The Salvation of Stephen Dedalus," a play written and directed by Assoc. Prof. Don Randall. Based on James Joyce’s 1916 semi-autobiographical novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man tells a coming-of-age story about a young artist’s growth to maturity and adult reasoning, while highlighting the conflicts between the protagonist and the society in which he is raised. Central to the plot is Stephen Dedalus’ rebellion and rejection of the Catholic Church. The play takes place in Dublin, in the last years of the nineteenth century. Stephen Dedalus' schooldays are described, along with some parts of his family life. The play shows scenes of his puberty, together with his adult sexuality. Stephen's temporary yet fiercely experienced interest in becoming a priest is firmly examined. The play ends with Stephen's university graduation and his decision to leave his native land for the sake of a successful career as an artist. The title character Stephen Dedalus is played by ELIT senior student Berat Melih Kalender, with Assoc. Prof. Don Randall as his father and Asst. Prof. Patrick Hart in the role of James Joyce. Throughout the play Joyce and Stephen in dream like moments connect which brings out an extraordinary taste to the play.

It is always a challenge to adapt a well-known novel for the stage and make it accessible to an audience. However, Don Randall’s adaptation concisely captures the narrative and successfully condenses the action into a self-contained play. The production does not rely on theatrical techniques, such as physical theatre and sound effects, to breathe life into the content. The strength and beauty of the language is not damaged by overused techniques, the dialogue and the potential impact of Joyce’s classic are well reflected. There is nothing to cloud the originality of the text.
Don Randall’s interestingly cross-gender portrayal of the characters brings out an avant garde taste to the play. Most of the schoolboy roles are played by young women. Only the hero Stephen, who is played by Berat Melih Kalender, remains the same while the other cast members switch between roles, which is sometimes confusing as transformations come quickly and it is often unclear who’s who.
            The play shows me that the integrated use of physical theatre is not always necessary. To put this comment into context; the language alone paints the horrific picture of hell and, therefore, the actors need not enact flames. The audience is encouraged to engage their imagination.  But for some parts, I find myself willing the actors to play with the language a bit more: to enjoy the words.
The play successfully captures the Catholic fear and attitude towards eternal torment. During a lesson, the Rector lectures the class about Hell; his depictions are extremely vivid for Stephen and he is affected deeply. We see what it’s like to be in the mind of the young artist. The language is beautiful and this strong adaptation captures the era. For the best ever description of Hell, you should have seen this fascinating adaptation. Be warned against sitting in the front row, as you're likely to be sprayed with invective as the doctrine-fuelled Catholic priest delivers his fevered lecture on what to expect in the afterlife should you take the wrong turn.

The cast are energetic and embrace their roles with dedication and there are some genuinely funny moments. However, there are a couple of instances where some of the performers appear too enthusiastic; emphatically demanding and stealing attention from where it should be. And there are several times where the actors switch between roles however their tone of voices does not change, resulting in one-dimensional portrayals. On the other hand, the actors do not resort to shouting every line for dramatic impact; instead they connect to the text, visualize the fineness of the language and evoke meaning from the words.
Overall, this is a very interesting experience for me to watch an innovative portrayal of Stephen, the hero. The production demonstrates imagination and the high energy cannot be faulted. For the most part, the play is flawlessly rehearsed, slick and dynamic. Audience is allowed to penetrate into the mind of Stephen: the continuous presentation of the character’s consciousness inviting reader to an intimacy. The end of this innovative play suggests that Stephen has reached a sensible and sensitive maturity to create his own innovative portraits as an artist. For fans of Joyce’s novel this is a great opportunity, and a visually interesting way of bringing it to the stage. I am as an ELIT student very proud of my department once more. I would like to congratulate the ones who embrace this play with dedication and commitment.

Bengisu Yalçın (ELIT IV)

Venue: C Block Auditorium
Date Reviewed: 17 December 2012

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