Friday, May 7, 2021


Fionnula Flanagan, Danny Meehan, Beulah Garrick, Zero Mostel, and company. (Photos: Friedman-Abeles.)
ULYSSES IN NIGHTTOWN [Dramatic Revival] A: Marjorie Barkentin; SC: James Joyce’s Ulysses; D: Burgess Meredith; S: Ed Wittstein; C: Pearl Somner; L: Jules Fisher; M: Peter Link; DM: Swen Swenson; P: Alexander H. Cohen and Bernard Delfont; T: Winter Garden Theatre; 3/10/74-5/11/74 (69)

Zero Mostel, Tom Lee Jones.

In 1958, Burgess Meredith successfully staged this piece based on James Joyce’s Ulysses in a much admired Off-Broadway production. A pre-Fiddler on the Roof Zero Mostel played Leopold Bloom. Both men were represented in the same capacities in this 1974 Broadway revival, but the results failed to generate the interest of the original production. Whereas that staging was done on the cheap with only minimal trappings, this one was an expensive, circus-like extravaganza in one of Broadway’s larger venues, an approach Walter Kerr labeled “a tactical mistake.” He said, “Ulysses isn’t a play, it’s a cataract of whispers; we need to be immersed in it, not set in grandstands for a dress-parade.”

Fionnula Flanagan, Danny Meehan, Beulah Garrick, Zero Mostel. 

Most notable of the new visuals was the extensive nudity, in both the brothel scenes and for the famous Molly Bloom soliloquy, expertly performed by Fionnula Flanagan). A number of critics found the exposed flesh excessive, but some liked it as the lustiest part of the show. A typical response to the production itself was Brendan Gill’s: “I enjoyed it as a spectacle, [but] I was not convinced by it; it seemed to originate not in the Dublin of 1904 but in the New York of 1974.”

Zero Mostel, Swen Swenson.

The general opinion held that Marjorie Barkentin’s dramatization had failed at the admittedly impossible task of converting the sprawling novel into a viable dramatic work. Several noted that the theme of father and son between Leopold and Stephen Dedalus (Tom Lee Jones, before he became Tommy) was insufficiently explored. John Simon remarked that “the basic idea of concentrating on the Nighttown sequence, with only a few snippets from the book’s other episodes, is not just a misinterpretation but also an evisceration.”

Kevin O'Leary, Zero Mostel, Norman Barrs, Robin Howard, and company.

As a vehicle for Mostel, the play was more satisfying. Reactions varied, but most thought his Bloom “a remarkable creation,” as Gill described it. “Mostel’s sad and funny, tragic and triumphant incarnation . . . is something that should not be missed,” observed Jack Kroll. Simon, however, thought the usually rambunctious star too restrained, adding, “As the Irish Jew . . . he is, so far from being Irish as Paddy’s pig, inconceivable as kosher pork.” Flanagan was much liked, but the rest of the company met with reservations. The sizable company included W.B. Brydon, David Ogden Stiers, Danny Meehan, Gale Garnett, Swen Swenson, Kevin O'Leary, Beulah Garrick, and others.

Ulysses in Nighttown earned several Tony nominations, which went to the play, Flanagan, Mostel, and Meredith, as well as to Ed Wittstein for his sets, and Jules Fisher for his lighting. None won. Mostel did capture a Drama Desk Award, and Wittstein got a Joseph Maharam Foundation Award.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on by clicking here.

Next up: Uncle Vanya (two revivals)