Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Bloomsday
Lyric Arts Main Street Stage
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's review of Black Comedy


Brandon Homan, Jeffrey Goodson, Gillian Constable,
and Lolly Foy

Photo by Twin Cities Head Shots
How many of you have read—cover to cover—James Joyce's masterpiece, "Ulysses"? Raise your hands. Just as I thought, not so many. More of you, I am guessing, gave it a try and perhaps have read excerpts, but getting through the whole thing? I'm with the majority. In Steven Dietz' bittersweet romance Bloomsday, which can be seen at Lyric Arts Main Street Stage, an American named Robert, who has been teaching the novel for some twenty-five years, assures us that virtually no one has actually read the whole thing.

Nonetheless, "Ulysses" is an important touchstone for Dietz's play. Joyce set the novel in Dublin on a specific date, June 16, 1904. Over the years a tradition has formed that commemorates the novel by retracing the journey of its central character, Leopold Bloom, through the city of Dublin on that day, including stops in various inns and taverns. Many fans dress up in the apparel that was in fashion back in 1904. Although the novel is hardly known as an upbeat read, Bloomsday has become a festive occasion, celebrated not only in Dublin but in cities around the world, from Hungary to New Zealand.

Robert has traveled from his home in the United States this Bloomsday on a special mission: to see the woman who, 35 years before, was a tour guide leading a cluster of tourists on a walking tour of "James Joyce's Dublin." Robert, who back in 1985 called himself Robbie, had gone to Dublin as a consolation prize when both a trip to London and a relationship with the woman he meant to take that trip with both fell through. Without any special stage, light, or sound effects to clue us in, we become aware that we may not be in present day Dublin, but have found ourselves back in 1985 when Robbie was persuaded by the alluring young guide, Caithleen, to join her tour group, which turned into an opportunity for these two to share drinks at Davy Byrne's pub, one of the locations in the Joyce novel and its descendent Bloomsday festivities. Caithleen, who has never been any further from her hometown of Galway than Dublin, is enthralled by this brash American boy.

The obvious chemistry between Caithleen and Robbie breaks Robert's heart as he looks back from the vantage point of advanced middle age. Caithleen has also become older, now calling herself Cait, and has suffered through a difficult life. Both Cait and Robert coach and counsel their younger versions, knowing as they do the price they paid for the decisions they made thirty-five years ago. They also know that the past cannot be undone. For Cait and Robert, watching that past replayed is intensely bittersweet.

The theme of aging people reflecting on missed opportunities, and agonizing over what they might have found on the road not taken, is the basis of many plays, including Dietz's own Shooting Star, seen a few years ago at Park Square. Bloomsday uses this trope very well, but it does more. By concurrently presenting us twenty-year-old Robbie and Caithleen and fifty-five-year old Robert and Cait, we see clarity form in the minds of the elders over what actually happened, in contrast to their burnished memories of it. Dietz entreats us not just to look back at the "what ifs" of our past, but to recognize the inevitability of what has been. The only open question is "what now?," and the playwright provides a thoroughly believable, heartaching conclusion that leaves a mist of beautiful yearning over both the young and the old.

The quartet of actors on stage do lovely work, creating characters that seem authentic, both in the bits of their daily lives that are revealed through their conversations and in the depth of their emotions. Gillian Constable is bubbly and charming at first meeting as the young Caithleen, gradually revealing her insecurities and fears for what kind of future lies in her cards. Lolly Foy, as the elder Cait, conveys a world-weariness, having lived through the fate told by those cards, with a deep sense of sadness moderated by remnants of the inner glow that illuminated her in youth.

Jeffrey Goodson is striking as the elder Robert, with a sense of disbelief that he is finally back at this spot where so much, and yet so little, happened thirty-five years before. He seems completely at ease upon viewing the young Caithleen as well as his own younger self, and can't constrain himself from offering his perspective on what is about to happen. Brandon Homan plays the young Robbie, callow and unprepared for the depth of commitment his flirtation with Caithleen invokes. He demonstrates what Robert knows, that he was too young for what might have been.

Of the two pairs, the younger/older Caithleen/Cait come across as more like one another. Robbie/Robert seem less similar, a function of physical differences between the two actors but also attesting to the likelihood that Robbie lived a life that allowed for changes in character, while for Caithleen, who never did leave Dublin, all she becomes is a more weathered version of who she was.

Director Elena Giannetti treats Bloomsday as if it were perfectly natural for two sets of the same man and woman, with a thirty-five-year age difference between them, to occupy not only the same space but the same time. Transitions between the past and present are seamless, and the pacing well measured. Her cast employs effective Irish accents, with the reliable Foster Johns serving as dialect coach.

The set, designed by Brian J Proball, offers a pleasing facsimile of quaint shops and pubs along a street in old Dublin, with a bench here, a pub table and chairs there, that provide for the various spots visited in the Joyce James tour, with an openness that enables fluid movement from one site to another. Shannon Elliot's lighting contributes to the shifting waves of emotion throughout the play. I must object, however, to two bits on the set that distracted me throughout. One is a wood sign hanging from a tavern proclaiming it to be McDaid's Irish Pub. In Dublin, would any pub feel called on to identify itself as an "Irish" pub? The other is another pub called Sweeny's with a sign above spelled "Sweny's." Minor details, but try as I did, I couldn't stop noticing them throughout the course of the play.

Those quibbles aside, I found myself thoroughly engrossed in Bloomsday and moved by the plight of its four characters representing two people. In their youth, I rooted for the bloom of desire that drew them together and felt compassion for their fears of mapping out their lives too soon, unready to claim a determined future. In their advanced years, I felt kinship with their greater certainty about who they are and what they want in life, and had empathy for their regrets and losses. Lest this sound morose, Bloomsday leaves us not with a feeling of melancholy, but with wistfulness over doors never opened in our past, to savor the sweetness of what slipped through our fingers. Like the celebrants of Bloomsday traipsing through Dublin, they travel back to relive a day that was never more than fiction, but over time established its own hold in their mind.

Lyric Arts Main Street Stage gives Bloomsday a beautifully rendered, sensitive staging that moves the heart, and may prompt affection for the choices made in our lives that, stone by stone, becomes the paths we travel.

Bloomsday runs through January 26, 2020, at Lyric Arts Main Street Stage, 420 East Main Street, Anoka MN. Tickets from $30.00 - $26.00; seniors $28.00 - $24.00; age 25 and younger $25.00 - $21.00. For information and tickets call 763-422-1838 or visit lyricarts.org.

Playwright: Steven Dietz; Director: Elena Giannetti; Scenic Design: Brian J Proball; Costume Design: Josie Everett; Lighting Design: Shannon Elliott; Sound Design: Lea Brucker; Props Design: Emma Davis; Intimacy Coach: Shae Palic; Dialect Coach: Foster Johns; Stage Manager: Joe Black.

Cast: Gillian Constable (Caithleen), Lolly Foy (Cait), Jeffery Goodson (Robert), Brandon Homan (Robbie).


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