Regional Reviews: St. Louis
For Bloomsday, Jessa Knust directs rather mechanically, but it seems as though the script triumphs and a mystical Brigadoon is turned into a pretzel, where past and present are both independent of one another, and tangled-up too. The artfulness of the script makes up for a lot of unrealized character development.
A young woman, Caithleen (Megan Wiegert), is caught in the grip of a kind of madness that runs in her family, where the future shifts awkwardly into view now and then. It's a gift that destroys its recipient. But when we first meet her, it's 35 years ago, and she's giving a tour of the sites immortalized in James Joyce's "Ulysses." She's about to meet Robbie (John Trotwood Moore), the impish younger version of this stiff, 55-year-old American, who has the opening monologue. The older Robert is played almost glibly by Jeff Lovell, which puts a lot of weight on everyone else to carry the romance. Things don't really take flight till Colleen Heneghan shows up late in act one as the older, warmer and wiser (and nuts) Cait. Thanks to her, the play begins to breathe, and everyone seems like a much better performer. Otherwise, the director seems to abandon the other three actors at emotional dead ends: young Caithleen should be fighting a much more palpable dread over being trapped in a fossilized town, and over her impending madness; and older Robert should rediscover, anew, his colossal exasperation at his younger self every blessed night. Mr. Moore does very nicely, but his Robbie cannot wrestle with the darkness in Caithleen.
Ms. Heneghan seemed the most in-tune with the circumstances of the play and the workings of wonder, at this performance. Maybe she's just more interested in the complexities of forging relationships. And she's on stage a lot in act two, thank goodness.
It's a bit dry, otherwise. The other three actors have their moments, but usually trade on simple awkwardness or a sense of withdrawal. But you're supposed to work around those obstacles to find ways to illustrate something about the character's inner workingsnot get stuck in them. (It is also important to note that we at TalkinBroadway and most production companies have a rule about not reviewing a final dress rehearsal, but that also happened to be the night set aside for critics in this case, due to social distancing rules at this venue.) When a time-traveling tour guide who's experienced in the emotional terrain finally shows up (Ms. Heneghan), after the first 30 minutes or so, Joyce's magical quarter of Dublin begins to come to shimmering life.
Bloomsday runs through September 26, 2021, at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd. (just north of Delmar Blvd.), St. Louis MO. Masks are required, and bottled water is available in the downstairs lobby, off the stairs and elevator. For tickets and information visit www.westendplayers.org.