A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, StreetSigns, at Facets Multimedia International Performance Studio. A complete, faithful, theatrically satisfying stage adaptation of James Joyce’s autobiographical novel is probably impossible. As soon as you start cutting his magnificent prose you’ve changed the work utterly. So adapter/director Derek Goldman and company set out to “violate…the ‘purist’ approach,” and they’ve succeeded admirably–maybe too admirably, slashing away much that’s concerned with Joyce’s (and Stephen’s) internal battle with Ireland and Catholicism, filling their Portrait with dance-theaterish reveries. It’s enough to send a die-hard Joycean screaming into the middle of Fullerton.

Still, much of Goldman’s adaptation works. Having two men and a woman play Stephen is simply brilliant, though I have no idea why it works. Likewise Goldman’s edited version includes all the really important scenes–Stephen’s epiphany watching the birdlike girl bathing in the sea, for example–though not all are acted equally well.

Goldman is on surest ground when he’s dealing with Joyce’s early sections of playful prose–for which the chamber-theater tradition seems tailor-made–and when he’s grappling with Joyce’s ideas. In fact he begins the play with a speech Stephen gives three-quarters of the way through the novel spelling out his theory of art. But Goldman falters whenever Joyce, in true Irish fashion, becomes emotional or sentimental or both. As a result what could have been a truly moving, satisfying adaptation–faithful or not–is sometimes reduced to a mere academic exercise.

–Jack Helbig