BLOOMSDAY: Time Shifting & Love
A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: CAT Theatre, 419 No. Wilkinson Rd., RVA 23227
Performances: February 7-22, 2020
Ticket Prices: $25 Adults; $20 RVATA Members; $15 Students
Info: (804) 804-262-9760 or firstname.lastname@example.org
I was not familiar with Steven Dietz’ play, Bloomsday. Published in 2017, the four-person play is set in Dublin, Ireland and shifts between the present and 35 years earlier. The four actors play two characters – the present-day Cait and Robert and their younger embodiments, Caithleen and Robbie. Robert also acts as narrator.
Bloomsday is a tale of love, regrets, and “what ifs.” Robbie, a young American tourist on the rebound from a breakup, joins a walking tour of James Joyce’s Dublin – following the path of Leopold Bloom in Joyce’s novel, Ulysses. The tour guide, an attractive young Irish woman named Caithleen, has a group of 12 tourists ready to explore the streets of James Joyce’s novel as seen through the eyes of Leopold Bloom, but she needs another person so the tour group will not have 13 people (including herself). Robbie joins the group, then selfishly encourages the other tourists to abandon the tour (there are several pubs along the route) so he can have Caithleen all to himself – taking numerous pictures of her.
The two spend one day together. Robbie returns to Seattle where he obsesses over Caithleen until finally, 35 years later, he returns. What follows is a surreal tale in which it is sometimes impossible to tell what really happened and what is just a memory. Cait and young Cathleen, Robert and young Robbie all interact with one another, sometimes sharing the same space – which means time has warped so that the characters come face-to-face with their older/younger selves.
It’s an interesting device that forces the audience to work to keep up with these parallel universes. At one point Mike Fletcher (Robert) and Jordan Stroud (Robbie) are dressed alike. But Robbie’s messy hair and untucked shirt earn him a reprimand from his older self. The first encounter between Caithleen (Lydia MacFarlane Watt) and Cait (Martha Kelly) in Act 1 confirms for the audience, that time is, in fact, malleable in this play.
Mike Fletcher is the dominant figure. After all, his character Robert is both narrator and the one who travels back to Ireland. The interaction between Fletcher and Jordan Stroud, who plays his younger self, is interesting. It has the tension and contentiousness of a father-son relationship. I never got quite as strong an impression from Martha Kelley’s character. The mature Cait seems to have succumbed to the same unnamed mental illness that plagued her mother. Cait seems more contemplative and rational than the others, but I never got a real sense of who she was.
Lydia MacFarlane Watt was well cast as Caithleen, alternating between self-assured confidence, self-righteous indignation, and anxious introspection. Alison Eichler has dressed Caithleen in sensible shoes, a tulip shaped skirt, white shirt and print sweater, with a large leather bag across her shoulder. The look – along with Watt’s attitude) is perfect. Eichler also created a wonderful costume with a flamboyant feather festooned had for Cait, in honor of Bloomsday – a celebration of James Joyce’s Ulysses that takes place on June 16 and includes dressing up in period clothing.
Mike Fletcher and Joe Bly designed the set – a row of shop fronts, including a chemist, a pub, and a café – pasting yellowed book pages on the walls, floor, and steps. (I got up close to check to see if the pages were from James Joyce’s Ulysses but none of them were. Jimmy Mello created the sound design, which included some appropriate ambient sounds, while Jason Lucas’ lighting attempted – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – to emphasize the shifting.
While I found Bloomsday to be a hidden gem of a play, there were some areas that seemed to drag; the show runs only about 90 minutes with one intermission but I there is very little action and after a while the lilting rhythm of Irish accents (mostly good ones, that are easy to understand used by all but Robbie who is American). Mello and his cast made good use of the space, using the aisles as well as the stage. But it is the tenderness and unanswered or unanswerable questions that make this play special. An Acts of Faith Festival offering, Sunday’s nearly sold-out matinee was followed by the first of two audience talkbacks -the second will be Sunday, February 16.
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
Photo Credits: Daryll Morgan Studios