I like the Lyric Arts in Anoka, it’s a good space for productions of all sizes. I’ve seen possibly my favorite production of RENT there but it’s also well suited for more intimate productions like Bloomsday. A four person two character play set in Dublin Ireland. The stage is transformed into a square on a Dublin street, it’s scope is impressive for such a small scale story. There is a trilogy of films that I am very fond of by Richard Linklater known as the Before Trilogy. This play reminded in parts of the first film Before Sunrise. Like that film we are basically following a young man traveling abroad and the young woman he meets in Vienna and spends the day with. That too is an intimate story were we are really only concerned with the two characters and it is set against a large canvas. Also Like that film the two end their time together going their separate ways. Don’t worry I didn’t spoil the ending, we come to understand that near the beginning. Whereas in the Before Trilogy we revisit this couple every 9 years, in this play it has been 35 years. The conceit of the play is that the characters at 55 are able to interact with the characters at 20. The reunion of the 55 year old versions of Robbie and Caithleen is brought about by Robert, who is looking back at that day and regrets how it ended.
The older and wiser Robert and Cait performed wonderfully by Jeffery Goodson and Lolly Foy. Goodson, brings a yearning and regret to the role, that mirrors that feeling we’ve all had of, what if. That decision we made or action we didn’t take that we are kicking ourselves for later in life. But his sense of regret is intensified by a feeling that Caithleen was his one chance and he blew it. He wants desperately to change the past, to tell his younger self to do things differently. Or, not being able to do that, to tell the younger Caithleen not to make such an impression on him that he’ll still be yearning for her 35 years later. Goodson sells all of this, you can feel his frustration with his younger self and also that he still sees the same thing in Caithleen that he saw 35 years ago, and you can see the ache in his eyes. Foy goes a different route with Cait, she brings an eccentricity to the 55 year old that is born from living by her own reality for the intervening 35 years. She seems less eager to try and get the younger versions together, she seems to feel that it was better for Robert to have not been with her. She has her reasons for that and they make sense. But we can’t help but think that where she is now, might not be the same if they had gotten together. Foy plays Cait as a woman who has made peace with her demons and is beyond worrying what people think of her. She gets her laughs with that, but also embodies Cait with real emotion. She feels much more warmly to her younger self than Robert does to his. Where he felt frustration, she feels compassion.
Of the younger versions Gillian Constable stands out. She is natural and beguiling as Caithleen whereas unfortunately, Brandon Homan is too broad. The key to the before Trilogy is the chemistry between the leads, it’s what you need to create the palpable longing within the audience so that they feel and understand what could be between these characters. For this story to work we as the audience need to feel that these two people should be together, we need to feel that it is a tragedy they didn’t get together. That will engage us in the time that Robbie and Caithleen spend together, and make the regret and longings of Robert and Cait all the more powerful. Chemistry is impossible to cast, it’s either there or it isn’t, and a well written story and dialogue played by good actors can still sell the story. Three quarters of this play works, the quarter that doesn’t undermines the whole. It isn’t that Holman is necessarily a bad actor, he’s just a different style of actor than what was needed here. From the program I see that he has been performing with Children’s Theater groups and I suspect that he is perfectly suited for those roles. This needed to be subtler, that’s the best way I can think to put it. We have no trouble seeing what he sees in Caithleen, but we have to see what she would see in him as well, or it doesn’t really work.
This is the area premiere of the play by Steven Dietz and directed by Elena Giannetti. It’s a good play and I’d love to see it performed again. With the younger characters relationship better realized, I think it will only make the older characters parts even more effective. I liked the design of the set Brian J. Proball, more than it’s execution. The idea of building such a large scale city square and then telling this small scale story within it worked. I felt that the actual craftsmanship of it wasn’t up to the Lyric Arts usual standards, maybe I was just too close to it, I do love the front row. The lighting (Shannon Elliott) and sound (Lea Brucker) design was well integrated, used to create focus at different points, when they quoted passages from Joyce or when they froze time. Thunder plays a role, and it’s subtling suggested without taking us out of the play or taking our focus from the characters. This isn’t a home run for Lyric Arts, but it is definitely worth taking in. It’s a solid play with some first rate performances.
Bloomsday runs through January 26th for more information and for tickets visit http://www.lyricarts.org/