James Joyce's The Dead

Under Charles Otte's tender staging, Richard Nelson's adaptation of James Joyce's literary gem is nothing short of superb. Nelson's book stirs and then sweetens all of the poignant subtleties of Joyce's prose, and it's all neatly complemented by Nelson and Shaun Davey's music and lyrics, under Dean Mora's splendid musical direction, in which the oft-singing characters are accompanied by piano, cello, violin and some Celtic percussion. The story is the final one in Joyce's Dubliners collection, and takes place during the Christmas holiday in the fashionable home of the Morkan sisters in turn-of-the-last-century Dublin. For 30 years, friends and family have joined Julia (Jacque Lynn Colton) and Kate (Judith Carpone) to celebrate the blessed event, as narrated at the outset by their nephew, Gabriel (Rob Nagle). And for most of the evening, food, song, dance, revelry and music are richly displayed; but inexorably, some portent of change looms, the emotional tenor darkens as recollections of the past emerge, none more subtly powerful than the memory of a long-ago someone who stands between Gabriel and his wife, Greta (Martha Demson). Gabriel achingly sings one of literature's most haunting, final perorations, even if it is a bit gussied up by Nelson: a prayer for the living and eulogy for the dead, as snow falls across Ireland. This is about as close to a flawless production as you can get. The ensemble is polished and convincing. Otte and Teresa Enroth's lighting design is devastatingly effective. Kis Knekt's parlor-room set is designed with craft and care against the backdrop of an ice-blue back wall, as are Christina Wright's beautiful period costumes. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Feb. 8. Continues through April 12, 2008