We are delighted to welcome you to The Dead, 1904, adapted, by us, from James Joyce’s great short story. At your upcoming performance you will have the opportunity not only to observe the action of the piece, but to experience it from within. You’ll be attending the annual Feast of the Epiphany party, thrown by the Morkan sisters, Kate and Julia and their niece, Mary Jane, and attended by their tiresome house guest Mr. Browne, by Mrs. Malins and her alcoholic son, Freddy, by the fiery Irish nationalist Molly Ivors and, of course, by their favorite nephew, Gabriel Conroy, and his wife, Gretta.
At the heart of the story is a revelation about Gretta’s past, which at once deeply wounds Gabriel and allows him to discover his truest self. The revelation is prompted by the lament, “The Lass of Aughrim,” sung by the famous Dublin tenor, Bartell D’Arcy:
Oh the rain falls on my yellow locks
And the dew soaks my skin
My babe lies cold in my arms
Lord Gregory, let me in
Gabriel Conroy shares a name with the hero of Bret Harte’s 1876 novel Gabriel Conroy, which describes the deaths by starvation of a group of settlers in the California Sierras, and which begins with some language that might sound familiar to readers of “The Dead”:
Snow. Everywhere. As far as the eye could reach…
Harte’s novel is set in 1847, just as the appalling Irish potato famine was underway. Though relief measures were passed under the Irish Poor Law Extension Act, one provision of the Act – the so-called Gregory Clause, named after Lord Gregory of Coole – exempted from relief anyone who owned more than a quarter of an acre of land. This clause was widely and willfully misinterpreted, and many who should have qualified for relief were refused.
The epiphany that Gabriel experiences in the story’s famous final scene connects him not only to his wife but to the millions of Irish people who were lost to the famine, and to the waves of emigration that followed it. These are the shades Gabriel invokes in his final soliloquy. They, too, are guests at the Misses Morkan’s holiday party.
Welcome to Usher’s Island, Dublin, January 6th, 1904.
-Jean Hanff Korelitz & Paul Muldoon
For a helpful analysis on the main themes in “The Dead”, you might want to read this.
For more information about “The Dead”, Paul Muldoon recommends
The Dead (Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism), Daniel R. Schwarz (Editor).