If things run true to form, the crowd outside the Rosenbach will start swelling around 6 Saturday evening, expectation hanging heavy over the marble staircase that serves as the stage for Bloomsday, the annual celebration of the date James Joyce's classic novel Ulysses takes place. The buzz will grow louder as the last reader of the day takes her place at the podium and sets down the glass of water she'll surely need to get through her 30-minute monologue. Then Drucie McDaniel will step up, adjust the microphone and become--as she has every year for the last nine--Molly Bloom. It's a role McDaniel, a professor of acting at The University of the Arts, savors. "The hardest part is that the reading's almost become a kind of local legend," she says. "I'm always afraid. What if it sucks this year?" Not likely. Penn professor and Joyce scholar Vicki Mahaffey has heard countless Molly Blooms. "Drucie's the best I've seen," she says. "She hits the perfect twilight balance between laughter and tears, between loss and reaffirmation, with which Ulysses ends. I could hear it over and over again from her and love it every time." Though the all-day reading has become the biggest annual literary event in the city, that wasn't always the case. McDaniel recalls the first Bloomsday, held at the Curtis Institute 10 years ago. "It was to call attention to the fact that the Rosenbach had the original handwritten manuscript of Ulysses," she says. "We did readings for about an hour." But when an overflow crowd showed up, the event moved to the Ethical Society the following year, where more people gathered. Year three, Bloomsday moved to its present location outside the Rosenbach and expanded the number of reading hours. Starting Saturday at noon and continuing for about seven hours, a steady stream of scholars, local celebrities and ordinary citizens will read passages to a loyal and burgeoning audience. What makes the event so popular? "Ulysses touches the human spirit with a lushness of language that we just don't get in this day of email and bullet copy," says McDaniel. "You don't get to give yourself over to the gloriousness of words and wallow in them in a hedonistic way. It's a joy to revel in Ulysses." As a reader, McDaniel says, "The goal is to take the characters off the page and bring them to life. Reading something as language-heavy as Ulysses is daunting. When it's enriched by a human performance, the words make more sense." There's no special trick to her approach, she says. "The main way I prepare is by getting a little older every year," she says. "The older I get, the more I tend to identify with Molly. Then I just give myself over to the piece, because you can't get better material than Ulysses."
>> Sat., June 16, noon. Free. Rosenbach Museum, 2010 Delancy Place. 215.732.1600. www.rosenbach.org.
Ulysses is as much Philadelphia as Dublin, fit for any underdog who’s ever been told he or his city is second-tier. Think Rocky with a doctorate, and tons more "Mickeys.” Get ready for Bloomsday with this Philly retelling.
Calendar: December 17-24
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PW's Holiday Guide 2014