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Molly Says No - Reviews


It’s Molly, Jim, but not as we know it.
From Lucy Healy-Kelly New York Irish Arts

How It's New York: When she performed in this, June 16th, Bloomsday, was fast approaching and the annual wave of Joycean events are taking place both in Ireland and internationally. More treats for New York Ulysses fans include the Irish Arts Center's Bloomsday Breakfast in Bryant Park, Eilin O'Dea's Hello Molly! and Symphony Space's 30th Marathon Celebration.

How It's Irish: Writer and Soprano Judith Mok takes one of Ireland’s most famous literary heroines and gives her a new voice of her own. Though Mok is Dutch, she has called Ireland home for many years. ‘Molly Says No’ was originally commissioned for the Joyce Centenary celebrations in Dublin in 2004.

‘I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls’ opens Molly Says No at the New York Public Library of Performing Arts at the Lincoln Center. It is a lush performance, but our Molly trails off abruptly, declaring “I swear if I have to sing that bloody thing one more time I’ll scream!” This irreverence puts us on familiar territory, with a character who has become famed and beloved for her gutsy, no holds barred soliloquy in the final chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses.

In this hour-long dramatic recital, Mok gives a new voice to Molly Bloom - the woman who, until 2001, is best remembered for voicing the longest "sentence" in English literature. Despite the fact that Joyce devotes this unprecedented literary feat solely to the thoughts of this one character, what we learn of Molly is of course the author’s voice, and Molly is the Penelope to our real protagonist. In Molly Says No, Mok is a flesh and blood Molly, embodied through an engaging and well-paced hour of music and monologue.

Molly reminisces on her youth in Gibraltar, dreaming of music and fame. This sun-drenched youth sets up her musings on the greyness of her home of Dublin, however, and she displays a contempt for her female contemporaries, “waiting to die in the city.” Molly by contrast is vital and craves the sensuosness, light and warmth which Ireland has in such short supply. But it is love of Bloom of course that has her there, and though Blazes Boylan does get a passing mention, she does conclude of her husband, with a grudging fondness, that “he is better than a lot of them”.

Familiarity with Molly’s Soliloquy make it hard to resist approaching this as the companion piece as which it is indended, and for the Ulysses-aholics in the audience there are many opportunities for a knowing chuckle. But Molly Says No is more than just referential fun, and as it segues with ease from soliloquy to song it more than stands alone. It presents its own substance too, particularly in the themes that her new soliloquy interestingly examines; exploration of Molly as wife and mother but also as a serious artist and professional singer – as the programme states, “a complex modern woman in a male world.”

These themes are well illustrated by the chosen songs, and it is when singing that Mok really comes into her own. Mok is an artist with many talents (more information about her here, and a podcast interview is coming soon!) It is an easy transition to imagine her formidable soprano as Molly’s. A feisty rendition of Bizet’s Habanera seems particularly appropriate for this daughter of Spain, an independent woman drawn by the romance of the Gitano gypsies. She is accompanied throughout on piano by Dearbhla Collins and the pair establish an entertaining rapport. As Molly herself drifts from Spain to Ireland, it was however Mok’s a capella version of She Moved Through The Fair that received an awe-struck response from the audience. In a Spanish piece redolent of Portugese Fado (again performed a capella), she movingly laments the death of her infant son Rudy and we see a softer, more vulnerable Molly.

Mok inhabits Molly well, with a talent, earthiness and wisdom which portrays her in the three dimensions which this piece sets out to illuminate. Molly Says No gives this character a defiance and a richer, more indepedent life of her own. But this is still a portrait of a determined, positive and capable woman. Despite the repudiation of the title, in its own way it still leaves you admiring that same woman who said Yes I said yes I will Yes.


James Joyce’s erstwhile heroine, Molly Bloom, breaks free!
From  Vulgo

In the one–woman musical performance piece, “Molly Says NO!” presented on June 6th as part of the “Imagine Ireland” festival at the Bruno Walter Auditorium /New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, renowned Dutch soprano Judith Mok embodies a very different woman than James Joyce’s Molly Bloom. This Molly Bloom says “No!” to the constraints imposed upon women in her day, “No!” to remaining inside the box, “No!” to the songs that Joyce would have her sing.

Originally commissioned for the James Joyce Centenary in Dublin in 2004, “Molly Says NO!”, was written by Michael O’Loughlin, an Irish poet and screenwriter. Restrictions imposed by Stephen Joyce- i.e. no quotations from “Ulysses” were permitted- clearly became an artistic challenge and thus this intriguing re-imagining of the character was born.

On a bare stage, accompanied by the fine Dearbhla Collins on piano, Mok-as-Molly makes her entrance, barefoot, wild-haired, bosom heaving, clad in a slightly tired gown. In another era she’d be addressing patrons in a cocktail lounge in the wee hours of the morning; her patter is more personal, however, and each acerbic, keenly observed anecdote is punctuated by a wide-ranging selection of arias and songs including Handel, Bizet, Mozart, and Schubert, with Sephardic and Irish folks songs thrown in for good measure.

Molly takes us through her life, from her beginnings as a girl in Gibraltar, the daughter of a possibly Jewish mother and Irish father, a soldier. She tells us how she danced exuberantly as a girl with the “gitanos” – gypsies. Molly was born to be a “prima donna”, she tells us. She could’ve been a contender, performing at the great opera houses in the world, but is reduced to performing for “drunks and the loveless”. Molly gave up her possible career for “him”—“him” being Leopold Bloom.

Like Bloom, Molly is an outsider, and perhaps that’s what they had in common. Molly makes no effort to conceal her contempt for Dublin. She informs us that from the moment she set foot in town, it seemed swathed in a funereal grayness. In fact, Molly says, “the Irish like nothing better than a good funeral… I think they’re all waiting to die in this city”. She mocks the hypocrisy of the men she sees weeping at the graves of wives they’d bullied and beaten, and has equal disdain for the women who sit in their parlors, “watching the skin crack and dry on the backs of their hands” and, despite their sexless auras seem to get pregnant with alarming regularity. “What do they know of “l ‘amour”?”.

When she speaks of Leo, however, it’s with great tenderness. She says the two of them are “two orphans in the world”. She confides that while their sex life had once been vigorous, she feels more compassion than passion for the man these days. Much of the dialogue is funny-“What’s a Jew in Dublin but a eunuch in a Turkish harem?”

Molly admires Bloom’s heart, mind and soul, so different from the brutish Dubliners “…sayin’ the Rosary one minute, lusty sexual predators the next”. This resigned, cynical and disappointed woman melts away when she gives voice to her songs. It’s clear that performing, not domesticity is what this woman was born to do.

Mok skillfully infuses each aria, each song, with real passion. Her witty description of the birth of her premature “Jewish” son, “a little Irish Messiah” foreshadows his death, and Mok’s interpretation of Handel’s “He Shall Feed His Flock” is a bereaved mother’s wrenching cry.

Dublin-based Judith Mok has performed all over the world, and has recorded operas by Mozart, Handel, Strauss and Puccini. Her gorgeous voice handles the musical interludes with pitch-perfect emotion. The spoken portions don’t come as organically, and her accent straddles the fence between her native Netherlands with a bit of an artificial brogue thrown in. “Molly Says NO!” brings Joyce’s supporting character front and center, revealing a survivor, a mother, an artist, and a very modern woman whose tale is a compelling companion to Joyce’s masterpiece ULYSSES.


ELECTRIFYING
From Times of India, 10 January 2008.

'Mok's dramatic recital, Molly Says No!, was awe-inspiring. Written by Irish poet Michael O'Loughlin, now Writer-In-Residence in Galway, the performance aims to show a different side to Molly Bloom. Only a Nepalese shaman's performance could be a match for Mok's vibrant show as she sang songs from the era of James Joyce, electrifying her audience.'


A PERFECT HOMAGE TO JOYCE
From De Volkskrant, 12 June 2004

'According to Helen Monaghan, Director of the Joyce Centre, participants in the Festival are more creative and inventive than ever before, because of the restrictions imposed on them by Stephen Joyce. 'Molly Says No!' a programme by the Dublin-based Dutch soprano and the poet Michael O'Loughlin, is a splendid example of this. We are not allowed to quote from Ulysses? Okay, then Molly Bloom's 'Yes' will become a 'No'. Molly says 'No' to songs like 'I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls'. She has had quite enough of the repertoire imposed on her by Joyce for a hundred years now, and so she literally steps out of his book. She says 'No!' to the crude Blazes Boylan, the lover who visits her in Ulysses at four o'clock. She likes a bit of fun, but doesn't spend all day lying in bed, as Leopold Bloom imagines as he wanders through the city. She is a singer, she has to study eight hours a day. 'What does he think I do all day? I've got to get this song right!' And she does, because it is terribly good. Thus, with linking texts by Michael O'Loughlin she works her way with apparent ease through a spectacularly diverse repertoire which she has picked herself. And no sign of Edwardian fancy dress. In bare feet and a spectacular dress by Synan O'Mahoney, she is the most original Molly that Dublin could hope for. And a perfect homage to Joyce.'


The follwoing links are five minute video excerpts from the show:

Molly Part 1

Molly Part 2

More clips from a live performance of Molly Bloom

Click to hear an interview on Marion Kelly's Parlour Review; with Judith and Michael O'Loughlin about Molly Says No

Judith Performing on RTE's, The View for a Bloomsday special.