Playwright Sheila Callaghan uses Joyce's Ulysses as a springboard in Dead City, mixing things up by recasting it as the story of a woman and setting it in contemporary New York. Samantha (Miriam Must) is married to jazz singer Gabriel (Jon Cole), and the two are portrayed as sophisticated NYC scenesters. All is not well, however: Gabriel is having an affair with his abrasive booking agent, Rosalind (Darcey Engen), and Samantha herself is on the verge of a real-life tryst with a would-be intellectual she met in an internet chat room. The meandering action parallels its source, moving from scene to scene with no point other than the journey itself. Samantha attends a funeral, goes to a hospital where a baby is being born, and mildly humiliates herself trying to get freelance work at an online magazine (Erin Search-Wells portrays the editor with a wince-inducing Euro accent). Some of this stuff works; much of it doesn't. Samantha keeps running into dissolute poet Jewel (Sandy'Ci Moua), and for a time Callaghan bets on a lame theme about Patti Smith and spirit transmission (don't ask) that dies in the water. The play itself at times fiddles with form to decent effect but overall comes across as forced and undisciplined (a cut-and-paste scene crisscrossing narrative threads comes across as a complete hash). Yet this isn't to say that there's nothing of merit in this Steve Busa-directed show. Must rides the twists and turns of Samantha's odd, repressed character with complexity and a sweetness that earns sympathy throughout the oddball turns of her day. Cole lends easy humor and bashfulness to Gabriel, who could easily come across as an unredeemable cad. Perhaps the best work comes at the end, when Jewel is in Samantha's kitchen during the early morning hours (Must and Moua forge a convincing connection), and Cole nails a version of Molly Bloom's extended thought soliloquy from the end of Joyce's novel. Whether intentional or not, this show captures the tedium of Ulysses more often than its brilliance.
at the Red Eye through October 21