Zahedi and I
I read Nausicaa Renner’s essay “Radical Narcissist” a few days after I went to see Caveh Zahedi’s new play, Ulysses and I, at the New School. Zahedi had described the play as an adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses into an “experimental theater performance,” but what I saw was both stranger and more predictable, and very much in line with the portrait Renner paints of a man obsessed with the sound of his own voice.
The play runs almost four hours long and consists of twenty-three sections in which Zahedi narrates summaries of The Odyssey, Ulysses, the life of James Joyce, and his own struggles with women, drugs, art, and sex. Throughout the play he had actors reading lines, most of which consisted exclusively of the characters’ names. The entire play was being filmed, as were the twenty-four hours of each of the main eight actors’ lives preceding the performance. All of this will, supposedly, come together as a long-form documentary about the making of the play and a recording of the play itself.
Unfortunately, Ulysses and I does nothing interesting and says little of value. It was haphazardly constructed (throughout the play, Zahedi repositioned actors and told them to speak louder) in order to let Zahedi run free with his ideas and connections, which he obviously feels are of great value and significance. No moment better exemplified this than when, after Zahedi called himself the reincarnation of Kafka, an audience member yelled, “This is bullshit! You’re wasting my fucking time!” and stormed out. After the outburst, Zahedi stood silently, looking like a hurt puppy dog, until an audience member (or perhaps crew member) shouted, “We love you Caveh!” At that point he smiled and returned to narrating the play.