Quotidian's drama of the everyday

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Entertainment,Music,Barbara Mackay

When Quotidian Theatre's Artistic Director Jack Sbarbori first saw the 1999 New York production of "The Dead," the musical version of James Joyce's novella of the same name, he said to himself, "Someday, if we ever have enough resources, we'll do this." And now Quotidian is celebrating the holiday season with a production of "The Dead."

The main reason the play demands resources is that it has a huge cast, relative to Quotidian's usual shows. "With the musicians, there are 19 people involved," said Sbarbori, who is directing "The Dead." "It's an ambitious undertaking. And since this is our first musical, I had to learn new skills, like collaborating with a musical director and a choreographer."

"The Dead" takes place in Ireland in 1904, on a snowy night, the night of two sisters' annual dance and dinner. The story's main character is Gabriel Conroy, who attends the dance with his wife, Gretta. Much of the play is taken up by Gabriel's rich interior monologue as he investigates his feelings, social anxieties and attitudes to Gretta. Early in the play he muses on the speech he will deliver later in the night. Later in the play, Gabriel discovers that he has not known about a large part of his wife's past.

"Gabriel is in part narrator and in part a character in the story," said Sbarbori. "This is a nonpresentational story, where Gabriel steps in and out of the story, participating in the musical yet turning around to the audience and linking scenes together."

Onstage
'The Dead'
Where: Quotidian Theatre, the Writers Center, 4508 Walsh St., Bethesda
When: Through Dec. 16
Info: $25 to $30; 301-816-1023; quotidiantheatre.org

To underline its nonpresentational nature, "The Dead" contains some unconventional staging. In order to establish the fact that the singing in "The Dead" is done for the other characters in the play, rather than for the audience, for example, the first number is sung by three women facing away from the audience, downstage center. The audience hears the song but sees only the singers' backs.

"It's a very successful rendering of Joyce's most famous novella with very few liberties taken," said Sbarbori. "I'm amazed that after the curtain there are so many grown men with tears in their eyes. The creators, Richard Nelson, who wrote the book, and Shaun Davey, who wrote the music, composed a musical that is very true to the feeling of the story."

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