Should they? Could they? Would they? These questions resonate in a bittersweet story of an extraordinary day that offers love a second chance in “Bloomsday,” at the North Coast Rep.
No surprise to English lit majors, the tale takes place in Dublin, where Bloomsday has become a cottage industry celebrating Irish writer James Joyce and commemorating a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of the author’s famous and (to most of us) unfathomable work “Ulysses.” Fear not. The production contains no pop quiz or Double Jeopardy questions about the book’s contents.
That said, embracing the novel’s shifts of narrator, time, space and reality has allowed playwright Steven Dietz to present the audience with two couples who are, in truth, the same couple separated in age by 35 years, yet conveniently occupying the same time and space.
American Robert (Martin Kildare), now middle-age, meets Robbie (Hunter Saling), his younger college-student self, wandering the streets of the Irish capital. Robert is unrestrained in sharing his lifetime of experiences with Robbie, launching into details about the boy, what the rest of the day and the future hold in store and imploring him to take a different path. This data overload, frankly, creeps the kid out.
But Robbie puts the old man out of his mind the moment he lays eyes on lovely Caithleen (Rachel Weck), a 20-year-old tour guide assembling a group of tourists to retrace Leopold Bloom’s steps. A Joyce acolyte, Caithleen brandished a thick copy of “Ulysses” (courtesy of prop designer Phillip Korth) that weighs as much as a dumbbell.
Caithleen, will later meet her older alter ego, Cait, (Jacquelyn Ritz), to surprising affect. But first, Robbie ingeniously thins out the group, by convincing one and all that Caithleen is leading an unauthorized tour, until it’s only the two of them sharing a pint at Bailey Pub. Out comes the copy of “Ulysses” and Robbie, who has no interest whatsoever in the story, is cajoled by Caithleen to read aloud a passage, mimicking an Irish accent. His mangling of the task makes you appreciate even more the work that Rachel Weck and Jacquelyn Ritz undertook to achieve their believable Emerald Isle intonation.
Robert and Cait also spend quality time together attempting to tie up loose ends left dangling more than three decades. The chemistry remains but an astonishing reveal raises the stakes should Robbie and Caithleen choose to grab the brass ring that will change the arc of their lives.
All this in a setting of vine-covered brick walls (set designer Marty Burnett) upon which a slowly shifting array of Gothic arches, windows and other architectural elements appear; these gently punctuated (by sound and projection design by Aaron Rumley) with the heartbeat peal of church bells. by Lynne Friedman