by Hazen Cuyler
Each time I have leafed through “Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man,” within a few pages I’ve set it down, always determined to return but never quite having the needed patience for James Joyce’s disjointed, stream of conscious writing. Thankfully, Guild Hall has provided an easy introduction. The East Hampton theater celebrated Bloomsday by presenting an online reading of Joe Beck’s biographical one man play about Joyce’s life. James Joyce: A Short Night’s Odyssey From No to Yes was directed by Elizabeth Falk and starring Austin Pendleton.
I studied under Austin for half a decade because he is one of the best actors I’ve ever seen. He’s directed me in a production for my company, and his life story can be heard on my podcast, “Portrait of an Artist” (I recognize the odd coincidence). So, one might say I retain a certain bias.
In Mr. Beck’s play, James Joyce recalls growing into the celebrated artist he always knew he’d become. Upon meeting WB Yeats, Joyce recalls Yeats saying, “Never have I seen such pretension with so little to show for it.” Mr. Pendleton’s humbled eyes look directly into the camera, “But when you know, you know. I knew it.” For a moment, we witness the merging of two men. Joyce and Pendleton. An unfiltered honesty binding two legendary artists. Mr. Pendleton, who achieved success immediately upon arriving in New York City, and James Joyce who, though it took more time, was acutely aware of his destiny.
James Joyce: A Short Night’s Odyssey From No to Yes, like everything these days, was performed through Zoom. I was more excited to see Austin’s work than I was to sit through choppy camera resolution, poor sound, ugly lighting and unstable internet. To my delight, as the reading started, none of those aesthetics bothered me at all. They were there, of course, as they always are, but because the acting and writing were so well accomplished, nothing else mattered. Zoom won’t replace theatre, but during a pandemic, it’s not a bad way to enjoy a reading.
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