A past love finds peace in ‘Bloomsday’
By Aimee Drugan, Onstage Colorado (Read the original.)
Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company scores another hit with Steven Dietz’s time-traveling romance
This bittersweet romance is a good reminder for all of us to treasure each moment of the present, before it becomes the past,” writes Stephen Weitz, producing artistic director at Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC). In his post-show email, he reflects on Bloomsday, the bittersweet romance that recently opened to a packed house at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder.
While solid life advice, we all know this is easier said than done.
What if, say, you were given the chance to change your past in light of what you know in the present. Would you?
Different perspectives on life already lived
At 55, Robert (Justin Walvoord) finds himself at the center of that question, having mysteriously traveled back in time to a pivotal day spent in Dublin as a young, American 20-something (Robbie, Peter Bussian) — or rather, as he remembers it, a “feckin eejit.”
We quickly learn the reason for this bitter denouncement of his younger self: Caithleen (Kate Parkin).
She enters the stage as a young literary tour guide taking groups around James Joyce’s Dublin in the context of his infamous novel, Ulysses. She’s also the woman Robert met, loved, and lost — all in a matter of hours — on this day 35 years ago.
Older and supposedly wiser, Robert looks to intervene in their fleeting love story. Can he change how it ends? If not, can he at least alter the path that heartbreak leads him down?
And then there’s older Caithleen — Cait (Megan Van De Hey) as we come to know her. Because she’s always experienced what she calls “shifting” — where people from her past or future show up in her present life — she’s had the chance to examine life differently. This offers Robert — and us — a new perspective on the parts of life we’ve already lived and perhaps regret.
Maybe revisiting your past, especially the painful parts, is less about seeking to change it and more about finding a way to accept and cherish it.
An appreciation for Joyce
The success of Bloomsday first begins with its exceptionally well-written script. This is true not only in the way playwright Steven Dietz constructs a story that has you laughing and crying, but also in how the words themselves are so carefully and beautifully chosen. Throughout the evening, I found myself actively aware of the eloquent and often lyrical lines recited by the cast — something I don’t often experience outside of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.
It’s clear that Bloomsday is written by someone who appreciates literature and his fair sprinkling of Joyce. Director Jada Suzanne Dixon does a nice job bringing it all together on stage.
Expert use of space
The ode to Joyce is well-reflected in both script and stage as the Dublin portrayed in Ulysses comes to life in a minimal, but effective set design. The backdrop consists of large prints of key places in the book suspended at alternating heights and depths across the back wall. Rather than one seamless picture, the prints are broken up and incomplete with plenty of space in between.
What else? Ah, a staircase and a bench. Perhaps a few stools and a barrel.
While this sounds sparse, set designer Ron Mueller doesn’t overcrowd an already elaborate and complicated story. Rather, he adds to the strength of the script and skill of the actors through design that mimics the fragmented and inconsistent nature of time and memory.
He also portrays the enormity of a city in a small theatre by leaving empty space that other set designers may have, less expertly, chosen to fill. Just as composers are attune to the importance of silence in music, so is Mueller to the space in Bloomsday’s set.
Small cast, shining performances
With only four characters depicting older and younger versions of the same two people, BETC puts on yet another shining performance with a small cast of excellent actors.
Peter Bussian and Kate Parkin are terrific in their roles as young Robbie and Caithleen, skillfully portraying the passion and earnestness of youth to draw us into their daylong love story. You quickly find yourself so attached, you worry your own heart may end up breaking.
So too is Justin Walvoord’s performance worthy of much applause in his depiction of Robert, now older and bitter. Resentful of the choices made in youth and desperate to change them, he offers a convincing portrait of regret and reminds us of our own humanity.
It is Megan Van De Hey, though, who emerges as the sage of Bloomsday with a dazzling performance of Cait. She gives us insight into what it might be like to do as Stephen Weitz suggests — to treasure what you have when you have it. If Walvoord gives us regret, Cait offers us acceptance.
She’s clearly got an awesome dialect coach (Gabriella Cavallero) too, with her believable Irish accent that doesn’t lose color throughout the evening.
All in all, Bloomsday is a must-see. For what BETC describes as “an old-fashioned, new-fangled Irish romance” or for a little advice on how to view the present and look back on the past, get your tickets now.