An entire evening centered on a letter, written some 80 years ago -- that is what the four-year-old James Joyce Society proposes for Saturday, when members and friends convene at the Washington Arts Club (2017 I St. NW) to celebrate the 103rd anniversary of the Irish author's birth. "The concept for the evening came to me as I was reading a letter written from John Joyce to his son James on his 21st birthday, while the author was staying at the Hotel Corneille in Paris," says society president Michael Heneghan. "Why not have James Joyce's father give his son a birthday party?"

The elder Joyce was possessed of a convivial nature, says Heneghan, and the society plans to celebrate accordingly. While baritone Lew Grenville renders songs from Edwardian Dublin, Guinness stout and Jameson's whiskey (included in the somewhat patrician $10 ticket price) will flow.

But the evening's centerpiece will undoubtedly be the resurrection of several Joycean characters in a script by Georgetown Prof. Rudolph Vonabele, in which they reflect upon their literary treatment by the author. Irish Ambassador H.E. Tadhg F. O'Sullivan will play Buck Mulligan, and former senator Eugene McCarthy -- whom Heneghan describes as a "poet-politician" -- will perform the role of Father Connee.

"We try to keep it from becoming an esoteric and scholarly organization," Heneghan says. "James Joyce would have had a time laughing at that." Interested parties can call 364-0607 or 978-0347 for more information.