Magazine article The New Yorker

The Undead

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Undead

Article excerpt

The Undead

The table was set for an old-fashioned Irish dinner party: white linen, cut-glass vases containing celery stalks and air-dried raisins. The meal, in a small tasting room in the West Village, was a rehearsal for an immersive re-creation of the holiday feast in James Joyce's story "The Dead." Beginning later this month, forty-two audience members a night will eat and drink along with the twelve cast members of "The Dead, 1904" as they take over the American Irish Historical Society, a nineteenth-century mansion overlooking Central Park, to stage one of the most famous parties in literature.

"The audience will be part of the play, but not in an intrusive, modern-theatre kind of way," said Jean Hanff Korelitz, a novelist, who adapted the story with her husband, the poet Paul Muldoon. She acknowledged that their exhumation faced challenges, beginning with corpse confusion: "A shocking number of people I mention the project to think I'm talking about the Grateful Dead or 'The Walking Dead.' "

Mark Russell, the executive chef at Great Performances caterers, emerged from his kitchen to explain that, for improved "approachability," Joyce's "fat brown goose" would now be a fat brown turkey. Korelitz and Muldoon approved, declaring goose to be, respectively, greasy and dry. Joyce's "round of spiced beef," Russell went on, had become a tenderloin marinated in a fig glaze, then rolled in cocoa. Muldoon, who moonlights as the poetry editor of this magazine, took a cautious bite. "Did you have spiced beef as a child?" he asked Ciaran O'Reilly, a fellow-Irishman, who co-founded the Irish Repertory Theatre and will direct the play.


"Me, neither," Muldoon said. "At that point, we were part of the modern world, with fish sticks and frozen peas."

"What about corned beef and cabbage?" Korelitz asked.

"That's nothing to do with Ireland," O'Reilly said, recoiling.

"We had a dish like Spam," Muldoon recalled. "But with even more fat."

They assessed the duck-fat-roasted fingerlings, which weren't quite the "hot floury potatoes wrapped in a white napkin" that Joyce describes. "The floury spud in Ireland is thought to be the height of sophistication," Muldoon said. "They're very dry and boiled, but fluffy."

"The floury is a mashed potato," O'Reilly said.

"I wouldn't worry too much about being literal, honestly," Korelitz said. …

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