BWW Review: BLOOMSDAY makes Regional Premiere at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati
Bloomsday, by Steven Dietz, enjoying a regional premiere through April 23rd at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, centers around a missed love connection between a 20-year-old American tourist, Robbie, and a 20-year-old Irish tour guide, Caithleen. Robbie tricks his way into a private tour, and he and Caithleen spend a fleeting four hours falling for each other, while retracing the route taken though the Dublin streets by Leopold Bloom in James Joyce's Ulysses. (This route is commemorated in Dublin every June 16th in a celebration callEd Bloomsday.)
There's no Hollywood ending in store as the young infatuates become separated and go on with their lives apart. He becomes an English professor in America, gets married, and has two sons. She stays put in Dublin, has many affairs, and ends up...well, in order not to ruin any surprises, we'll just say she ends up like her mother.
But, time is slippery in this play, and I am describing events of the second act. In the first act, it is 35 years later, and Robert (the grown-up Robbie) is the first to speak. And who does he speak to? The 20-year-old Caithleen. Next we meet Cait, who converses with her young self, Caithleen. Caithleen exits and young Robbie enters. Cait invites him to share her bench and feeds him a bread roll from Finnerty's (her favorite.) Later, Robert runs into and berates his young self (Robbie) for being a fool.
Bloomsday has all the makings of a time-travel farce, but Deitz decided to keep the humor tempered with yearning and regret. Time continues to slip in and out. Present, past, and future happen simultaneously, which should be a wake-up call to the characters to live in the moment; however, they seem determined to live everywhere but.
The play is framed around the famous Joyce phrase, "Wait, I wanted to. I haven't yet." But, Dietz can't quite rise to such a simple and tragic line. His play is anything but simple, and it's not tragic either. What it is is a play with a lot of poetic diversions and symbolic red herrings. Are we to believe that love has given these characters the ability to transcend time and space? Robert, the balding, affected, older man we meet at the top of the play seems more desperate to find his disappearing youth than any real woman. And Cait seems more wistfully in love with the bread rolls at Finnerty's than she ever was with Robbie.
ETC's gorgeous set by Brian C. Mehring evokes the streets of Dublin while supporting the dream-like world of the play. Windows are suspended from the ceiling and lit from within, implying that the pubs and shops are warm and full of happy Bloomsday revelers. But Dietz's small cast of four makes the streets eerily empty, as if the characters can only see each other. Are they living in a vacuum? Are they captives held in a continuous loop, returning to this spot and talking to the air, or to each other, or themselves (literally their younger selves) until they find the right combination to set themselves free from the cycle of regret?
By the time Robert and Cait have their 35 year reunion, dressed in period Bloomsday clothing and awkwardly sipping Guinness, Dietz's play begins to feel as heavy as Ulysses in hardcover. But any misgivings about the play itself were offset by the quality of ETC's production. The actors are lively and likable, and as directed by Cincinnati favorite, Michael Evan Haney, (who always has a handle on pacing), they are able to keep the play moving forward. Patrick E. Phillips as Robbie is charming and gentle enough to keep you from disliking the sort of creepy Robbie. (I mean, he takes 108 photographs of the unwitting Caithleen. 108! That seems more obsessive than romantic to me.) Annie Fitzpatrick as Cait is graceful and endearing.
Photo: Mikki Schaffner