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BWW Review: HIMSELF AND NORA Is a Passionless James Joyce Bio-Musical


Novelist James Joyce may have made a mess of his love life, but probably not as badly as composer/lyricist/bookwriter/orchestrator Jonathan Brielle has in his dreary Off-Broadway musical Himself and Nora.

Matt Bogart and Whitney Bashor
(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

An undistinguished contribution to the "insufferable artistic genius and the woman he considers his muse" genre, Himself and Nora has been kicking around for over ten years, last seen in Manhattan at the 2012 New York Musical Theatre Festival. The talented Matt Bogart, who stars in director Michael Bush's production at the Minetta Lane, seems to have been attached to the project for the long haul.

Told in flashback, the musical begins with Joyce's 1941 wake, where his widow Nora (Whitney Bashor) can't wait for one last chance to lash out at him. The lyrics don't get much better than Brielle's first awkward attempt at rhyming, "In death, the same old rot. / Always your after thought."

Their tempestuous romance begins in 1903 Dublin, when the young writer, caring for his dying mother and dealing with his hard-drinking father, falls for the plain-spoken chambermaid. Their attraction is expressed with a good deal of high belting, but Joyce's duels with the Catholic Church (represented by Zachary Prince's priest, who seems to haunt the author's subconscious) is his excuse for not wanting marriage.

Lianne Marie Dobbs and Michael McCormick
(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Mom and dad are played by Lianne Marie Dobbs and the invaluable character man Michael McCormick, who, as does Prince, play various roles.

The narrative never quite latches onto a plot until Joyce has trouble finding a publisher for "Ulysses" and, despite his distrust in the capabilities of a woman, finally hands it over to American Sylvia Beach. The couple's financial future depends on the lifting of a censoring ban that would allow sales in the United States.

While the cast and production are both fine, Himself and Nora inspires little of the passion the musical attempts to dramatize.

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From This Author Michael Dale