If you could travel back in time, what would you tell your younger self? And what would you hold back?
In Stephen Dietz’s Bloomsday, playing now at Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC), Cait and Robert are offered the opportunity to connect with their shared pasts and their unresolved what-might-have-beens. Dietz’s sense of time travel feels at some times literal, at other times metaphorical — the playwright seems less concerned with the logistics and more focused on his mind-bending almost-love story.
The city of Dublin, Ireland annually celebrates Bloomsday, a commemoration of writer James Joyce’s life and his celebrated novel Ulysses. 20-year-old Caithleen (Kate Parkin) earns money by leading tourists along the route Joyce traces in his novel, pointing out the spots where character Leopold Bloom drank a pint of beer or bought a bar of lemon soap. The newly single Robbie (Peter Bussian) falls for Caithleen as immediately as only a 20-something can.
Caithleen and Robbie spend only one rainy day together, but we learn through their older counterparts — they prefer “Cait” and “Robert” now, 35 years later — just how much that single day meant to them both.
As sweet as the young lovers are, it is the more senior Cait (Megan Van De Hey) and Robert (Justin Walvoord) that captivate in BETC’s production. They are wistful about the decisions of their past, sure. More touchingly though, Van De Hey and Walvoord play with a patient wisdom, a shrugging “ahh youth, what can you do” attitude that turns their missed connection into a poignant recollection instead of a morose regret.
Bloomsday‘s staging is lovely and stays out of the way of the story. (This is easier said than done; ask my husband about my constant and vocal frustration over productions that constantly shuffle furniture around.) Set designer Ron Mueller uses an initially random-seeming collage of photographs of Dublin; subtly and with only a lighting shift, these collages clearly reform themselves into key locations in the play. The sound design is subtle as well — perhaps too subtle at times, as some restaurant chatter first made me believe I was hearing (accidental) voices from backstage.
Director Jada Suzanne Dixon pulls everything together nicely. While the play might not have fallen on June 16 (Bloomsday), her sweet and surprising Bloomsday makes for a charming Valentine’s Day date.