Carta Al Artista Adolescente (A Letter for an Artist as a Young Man) | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Carta Al Artista Adolescente (A Letter for an Artist as a Young Man)


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Teatro de Arena, at Bailiwick Arts Center.

The transformation of a novel into a play is always a dangerous and delicate operation. Especially if the novel is James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, an eccentric, experimental, word-drunk work that is as much about telling stories in print as it is about its hero, Stephen Dedalus. Mexican playwright and director Martin Acosta succeeds admirably in the first third of his adaptation, thanks to his and Luis Mario Moncada's judicious editing of Joyce's material and to Alejandro Reyes's sensitive and witty portrayal of the young Dedalus.

But by the second third it becomes clear that Acosta has no idea how to illustrate Joyce's words. He gives his actors funny physical movements--climbing over the back wall, blindfolding each other, walking from here to there carrying bright green suitcases--none of which adds one iota to our understanding of Joyce. To make matters worse, Alejandro Reyes no longer dominates, and Mario Oliver and Arturo Reyes, the other two actors, speak English with so little confidence and with such thick accents that much of Joyce's wit is incomprehensible.

In the last ten minutes of the play everything falls apart when Acosta and Moncada unaccountably cap their adaptation not with the soaring prose that ends Portrait, but with a badly acted version of the long, dismal first scene that opens Joyce's Ulysses.

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