James Joyce's "The Dead" | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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James Joyce's "The Dead"

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James Joyce's "The Dead," Court Theatre. A home musicale on the Feast of the Epiphany, 12 days after Christmas, is the setting of the last tale in James Joyce's exquisite Dubliners collection. Here it's presented in a deeply moving musical adaptation by book writer Richard Nelson and composer Shaun Davey.

The date is 1904, and the occasion is the 30th annual reunion of the Morkan family, featuring performances by two music-loving aunts and their gifted niece. But at the heart of this 140-minute slice of love is a taste of death: by evening's end, protagonist Gabriel Conroy (John Reeger) learns that his beloved wife, Gretta (Paula Scrofano, Reeger's real-life wife), once knew a greater love than any he can give. With this bittersweet "epiphany," the narrator becomes as haunted as you can get without a ghost.

First presented a year ago, Charles Newell's only slightly sentimental staging bears repetition, returning with eight of the original cast members and, happily, a less perilously raked version of Brian Bembridge's abstract set. Consummate work makes Newell's ensemble a fractious, bumptious, but ultimately devoted family in itself. Doug Peck's impeccable musical direction and Davey's homespun score create the perfect showcase for these devoted music lovers. As the three musical "graces," Deanna Dunagan, Ann Whitney, and McKinley Carter fully earn Gabriel's gracious tribute to them. Few musicals so lovingly celebrate the joy of making music and its power to evoke lost love and trigger present laughter.

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