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If you go
What: “Exiles”
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; seating begins at 6:15 p.m.
Where: Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits, 1915 S. Calhoun St.
Admission: $12 general admission before Monday, $18 day of show; call 205-1523 for more information and reservations
Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Robert Schuster, who plays Richard Rowan in “Exiles,” gestures with his glass in a comical manner at Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits.

No longer in the dark

Joyce’s criticized play ‘Exiles’ gets local production

Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Ashley Miller, left, plays Richard Rowan’s wife, Bertha, opposite Cameron Cooper, who plays Robert Hand, a childhood friend of Richard’s, in Grand Effect Productions’ presentation of James Joyce’s “Exiles.” The play, unheralded upon its release in 1918, is rarely staged.
Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette
Freya Berntson performs during a dress rehearsal for “Exiles.”

Irish novelist and poet James Joyce is the author behind some of literature’s finest works; however, the only play he would ever write, “Exiles,” was historically disregarded by many theaters and critics when it was first published in 1918.

Joyce’s elaborate, semi-autobiographical piece was thought to be unfitting for the stage. But that was before Paul Allen, founder of Grand Effect Productions, got his hands on it.

“It’s a piece that gets overlooked because it dealt with so much, but I beg to differ,” he says.

Allen and his cast will present an original adaptation of Joyce’s “Exiles” on Monday at Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits. The original play explores the relationship between writer Richard Rowan and his common-law wife, Bertha, as they return to Dublin in 1912 after an exile in Rome. The plot gets complicated as relationships tangle between the couple; Beatrice, Rowan’s muse; and his longtime friend, Robert Hand.

The rarely staged play explores jealousy, freedom and the power people may have over one another.

“Our leading character is kind of a psychopath. He uses everyone to get what he wants,” Allen says. “I think the story talks about relationships and how sometimes we settle for what we have because we’re afraid to step forward into something new.”

Stepping forward into something new, however, is how Allen plans to make “Exiles” stage-friendly.

Since “Exiles” is public domain, Allen is able to update the story to take place in 1920s upstate New York, which makes the show easier to costume and understand in the American context. Allen also edited the story, making reasonable cuts to minor characters and scenes that shorten the length of the play and streamline the original plot.

“What we tried to do is make the story simpler,” he says. “We made some cuts and changes, but it’s the same story.”

Allen founded Grand Effect Productions in 2009 as a theater company dedicated to making theater and acting accessible to any person who was willing to put the effort into it. Allen says he works to have his shows fit his actors rather than finding actors to fit his show.

“A lot of theater groups won’t accept people who are overweight, or maybe they don’t meet an age requirement or they don’t have that much experience. My philosophy is if you have someone who wants to be in a play, and they are willing to do the work to memorize the line and follow blocking, you should give them the chance,” he says. “Where else are they going to get experience if you don’t use them?”

Allen says each actor is responsible for selling tickets, which is the money used to compensate the actors once the show is complete. With compensation varying on the volume of tickets sold, Allen says that it has been a great incentive in attracting actors and drawing out their best effort to perform.

“Everybody works a lot harder to promote what we’re doing, and they’re more proud of it,” he says. “It’s a group effort. It’s not about me making them puppets – they have to be comfortable onstage, and they have to be having fun onstage; otherwise, there’s no reason to do it.”