Playwright Steven Dietz enjoys a fruitful relationship with the ACT. Bloomsday is his 11th play to be taken on by the Seattle troupe and its world premiere is a gem. The premise is simple: a middle-aged man experiences some “time slippage,” enabling him to return to his past and encourage his younger self not to let that special girl get away. The setting is Dublin, the girl is a tour guide and the time is 35 years ago. A fun idea for sure, but what enables this work to soar is the exquisite language (a bit of it borrowed from James Joyce) employed by Dietz.
Peter Crook assumes the role of Robert, an English professor concerned about a “coldness in me.” Returning to Dublin, he pleads with his younger self (Eric Ankrim) to go after Caithleen (Sydney Andrews), the young woman he let slip away in his youth. Perhaps a different choice in his past can save Robert’s present.
Caithleen leads a “Bloomsday” walking tour through Dublin, pointing out actual sites referenced in Joyce’s Ulysses. She is fascinated with the possibility of escaping to America and leaving Ireland, a country that seems to “prefer the ache” of life. She worries aloud that she simply “does not know people.” Young Robbie, from the Puget Sound area might just be the right ticket. There are some hilarious bits working off of our Northwest locale. Merely, by chance, Robbie stumbles into the tour and Caithleen’s world. The play suggests that our lives’ foundations are built upon such simple happenstances.
ACT regular, Marianne Owen portrays the older Caithleen, also keeping a watchful eye on the young couple. Less strident than Robert, she seems more willing to accept the disappointments life deals out so persistently. Kudos to dialect coach Alyssa Keene; the two women’s Irish lilt sounded spot on to this ear.
Ulysses’ recondite qualities come in for a good deal of ribbing during the play, but some beautiful passages from Leopold and Molly Bloom’s soliloquies appear in the script, adding a charming depth to the lovers’ conflict. Dietz gives all four characters plenty of dramatic solos and the quartet ably connects on all of them. The cast is notably self- assured. They handle the more poetic sections of the dialogue with a believable natural ease. Director Kurt Beattie maintains a brisk pace throughout; I have rarely spent a faster and more enjoyable two hours in a theater. Celebrating its 50th season, ACT indeed got a sparkling gem of a script here and they polished it to a bright sparkle.
Bloomsday runs through October 11 at the ACT-A Contemporary Theatre; 700 Union Street in downtown Seattle. For tickets call 206-292-7676 or go to acttheatre.org.