Little Lake premiere of ‘Bloomsday’ works ‘beautifully’

By October 7, 2019 No Comments

Connor McNelis, Leah Hillgrove, Marc Duchin and Carina Iannarelli in ‘Bloomsday'(Photo: John Herrmann)

By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic

Because of my wacky day job I often find myself mentoring groups of high schoolers and every now and again they’ll point out that most adults seem sorta sad and wonder if there is any way to end up happy? I know they won’t listen but I still tell them: “Whatever you’re thinking, no matter what you’re going through … don’t post it to social media!” Not because it’ll make things worse – though it usually does – but one of the reasons adults are sad is knowing what they wrote at 17 is still searchable on the internet.

If the thought of revisiting your younger electronic self gives you vertigo, playwright Steven Dietz ups the ante considerably with Bloomsday, making its local premiere at Little Lake Theatre.

Bloomsday continues through October 12. Little Lake Theatre, Canonsburg. 724/745-6300.

In this comedy/drama, the middle-aged characters not only remember when, as 20-year-olds, they made what would be the worst mistake of their lives; through the magic of theater they get to time travel back and watch themselves do it all over again.

The backstory – It’s a few decades ago in Dublin on June 16. You eggheads will immediately recognize this as the date and location of James Joyce’s landmark novel Ulysses, in which the hero, Leo Bloom, spends the day walking the streets of Ireland’s capital city. Given the book’s literary significance and popularity, you can now take a walking tour on June 16th following Leo’s route, while folks read the novel aloud and the whole experience is known as Bloomsday.

On this years-ago Bloomsday, a brash young American, Robbie, is dragooned onto the tour by Caithleen, the charmingly eccentric young Irish woman running the group. Over the course of that day, Robbie and Caithleen find they’ve waded into some serious emotional water without having realized it and end up making a few life-altering choices.

The actual play opens 35 years later when a now older Robert comes back to Dublin in hopes of meeting Caithleen, these days known as Cait. He meets her, yes, but curiously it’s the long-ago Caithleen and she tries to get Robert to join her tour. Eventually, Robbie shows up and Robert imparts dark warnings about the day’s outcome to his younger self. And not surprisingly the older Cait joins in and teases/torments Caithleen with visions of her future.

The play is told through two-handed scenes; only two people are on stage at any given time. Robert and Cait can both interact with Robbie and Caithleen and those scenes are interspersed with moments from the fateful day when Robbie met Caithleen. The play closes out in the present day with Robert and Cait finally meeting for a scene of powerful import.

As I write all that it seems like it shouldn’t hold together. It’s a fussy, artificial premise that’s too theatrical for any sort of actual humanity; more studied than heartfelt. But on stage, it manages to work. And beautifully.

Part of it is this pitch-perfect production directed with understated grace by Sunny Disney Fitchett. Dietz has written a quiet, subtle play and Disney Fitchett’s production fully inhabits that world. She’s also put together a gorgeous cast; Carina Iannarelli, Marc Duchin, Connor McNelis and Leah Hillgrove. These four turn in filigreed performances and each understands a whisper can be more shattering than a shout. Their specific and beautified purposed work illuminates the aching core deep inside Dietz’ script.

The story is marbled with well-worn regret and a yearning for connection so powerful it overwhelms all four. And, at the last, when Robert and Cait come to see where life has led them, it’s devastating.

I don’t know if this is the kind of statement that’ll sell tickets but I found myself tearing up at the end and that must be a testament to the play’s great sense of loss … because I haven’t actually cried since I quit smoking three years ago.

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