At intermission, a woman I know was sitting in front of me. She turned and asked if I could explain Steven Dietz’s BLOOMSDAY to her. I did my best to talk about the space-time continuum (it is zero o’clock, after all, says “Cait” in Act One) and tried to explain that he was him and she was her but even as I was saying it I knew it didn’t make sense. When is the play taking place? Who’s in the present? Or is anyone? It’s all so abstract.
And that’s my first problem with the script. Too much about the physics and the timeline and the structure go unexplained. Secondly, nothing of note really ever happens. Yes, there are two people who probably should have fallen in love, but the playwright spends the entire play telling us that they didn’t and explaining why they shouldn’t have and I couldn’t help but wonder why any of us should care.
I will admit that I’m not the most romantically minded theatre patron, but this one left me completely unaffected.
I can’t blame the actors; its one of the most affable casts ever assembled. I sat admiring Barry Mulholland and Annie Fitzpatrick and Patrick E. Phillips and Becca Howell and smiled hoping that the younger generation age as proficiently as their veteran co-stars have. That’s not to say that Howell and Phillips aren’t good; they’re both talented performers and have good chemistry together.
I also can’t fault director Michael Evan Haney. His directorial resume speaks for itself; here, he guides his cast through the time-warp with such a gentle hand, keeping the show simple and the tone consistent. There’s nothing wrong with a play where people sit around and talk but it is hard to direct without being criticized as “static.” Haney knows his actors well enough to know they’re fine just sitting around talking.
And the script isn’t bad; there’s a lot of poetry, symbolism, and loveliness contained within. I’ve never read James Joyce’s Ulysses so I’m not sure I fully understood all the references but I did appreciate the way it was used to give the play a sense of place. I like a show with a meatier plot, I guess, but that doesn’t mean I don’t admire pieces like this. I didn’t hate it.
Alas, it’s hard to put my finger on just what kept me from fully embracing this theatrical experience. I guess I’ll blame the seats. And with Ensemble Theatre starting next season with yet another Dietz play that appears to be similar in tone, at least I know the chairs will be better. I test drove the one the lobby. They get my 6’4″ and fluffy-framed stamp of approval.
BLOOMSDAY runs through April 23rd at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati in Over-the-Rhine. Click here for tickets and more information.
And also, for a different take on the show, read David Lyman’s review in the Cincinnati Enquirer.