Austin Pendleton: Joy In Joyce

Austin Pendleton. Independent/Courtesy Guild Hall

For math geeks, it’s March 14, or Pi Day.

For “Star Wars” fans, it’s May 4 (May the Fourth be with you).

But for the bibliophile, at least since 1977, it’s June 16, or Bloomsday, that makes them say “yes I said yes I will Yes,” the famed last lines of Molly Bloom/Penelope’s soliloquy from James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

Finishing all of “Ulysses,” which follows one day in the life of Leopold Bloom (June 16, 1904) and is known as one of the world’s greatest and yet most ponderous and chewy novels, is something of a banner for a literature lover, and one that, admittedly, actor/director Austin Pendleton — who will be offering a one-night-only performance of a new work by Joe Beck, “James Joyce: A Short Night’s Odyssey from No to Yes,” directed by Elizabeth Falk — has yet to accomplish.

“I’ve made several attempts at ‘Ulysses,’” he said. “And I’ve gotten pretty deep into it each time, but I think now, with this continuing quarantine, I’m going to have another go at it,” he said, and then deadpanned, “It’s not a book you should be reading when you’ve got a lot of other things going on. I’m going to start over again. Each time I’ve gotten into it — sometimes it’s as far as the halfway mark — I’m stunned. The whole idea of it is stunning. And the quality of the writing is unlike any other writing.”

Pendleton — a recognizable face and an Obie and Drama Desk Award-winning, Tony-nominated director, playwright, and star of Broadway and innumerable film and television appearances, has had a stellar career that has spanned over five decades of performance.

“Like a whole lot of people, I discovered James Joyce by reading ‘The Dubliners,’” Pendleton said. “Including that phenomenal last story, ‘The Dead.’ And I could describe to you — when I finished that short story, which is almost a novella — where I was, I remember what time of the night it was, everything,” he said, acknowledging how profoundly he was affected by Joyce’s work.

Of playwright Beck’s new adaptation Pendleton said, “I feel that Joe has done the impossible: created a character for the theater who could actually be James Joyce. I would have thought it impossible. But here he is, Mr. Joyce, musing in free-from, struggling in free-form, about his writing, about his dreams and his successful efforts to create a literature that represented life as he knew it, in all its astounding complexity and wonder. Joe Beck finds the drama as well as the humor, and the joy, in Joyce’s struggle; and the sense of climbing a daunting mountain, going higher and higher into some literary heaven that before him had been unknown to anyone. For all these reasons it is a thrill for me to read Joe’s play aloud.”

Pendleton is directed by Falk, noted director of opera and theater with a wide-ranging career that has carried her across America’s regional theaters to work in Russia, Europe, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, where she has the distinction of being the first woman to direct a play for that stage.

This presentation is the second offering in Guild Hall’s new Virtual John Drew Theater series, and follows the popular recent presentation of “A Portrait of Tennessee Williams,” starring Harris Yulin and Mercedes Ruehl.

This evening performance will be followed by a live Q&A with Pendleton and the play’s creative team, moderated by the John Drew Theater’s Artistic Director Josh Gladstone.

Straw boaters, little round spectacles, a breakfast of liver and kidneys, and belt of Irish whiskey are not required to attend the virtual Zoom performance — but they might bring about “reaction. A lifetime in a night.”

The performance is on Tuesday, June 16, at 8 PM. Tickets are free, although there is a suggested donation. For more information about the play or the performance, visit

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