PICTURED: Linda Livingston as Cait and Chandra Bond as Caithleen in Bloomsday. Photo by Tom Mueller
by Emily Dodi
Transport Theatre lives up to its name with its production of Bloomsday, onstage through Feb. 2 at The Elite in Oxnard. The endearing cast sweeps us away to Dublin, Ireland, on a years-long journey that takes place on a single day.
That day is June 16, otherwise known as Bloomsday. It is so named in honor of Leopold Bloom, the character in James Joyce’s Ulysses who walks through Dublin on June 16, 1904, visiting various places and meeting a host of colorful characters. (Yes, that is a massive oversimplification of the literary behemoth, but if I try to explain Ulysses in one sentence, I might hurt myself.) Every year, Bloomsday is celebrated, particularly in Dublin, by people dressing in turn-of-the century costume and touring locations found in Ulysses.
In Steven Dietz’s achingly beautiful and wryly written play, a middle-aged American named Robert joins a Bloomsday tour in Dublin led by a young Irishwoman named Caithleen (Chandra Bond). Robert seems to know her, which unsettles her at first until the picture becomes clearer. Dietz once said that Bloomsday is about a man “who is trying to go to a city but instead he goes to a time.” That time is another Bloomsday, 35 years earlier, when Robert first met Caithleen. Back then, Robert was called Robbie and he was a cheeky young man who didn’t know a thing (or “ting” as Caithleen would say it) about love, let alone James Joyce or literature. But Robbie is smitten with Caithleen; that much he does know. And just like that, we are seamlessly transported back to the day when Robbie finds love then lets it slip away. The question is, can you go back and change the course of a life? Is it ever too late?
The time-shifting takes on greater depth and meaning as we travel back and forth — and also kind of sideways — through the love story. This becomes particularly pronounced when Cait (Linda Livingston), the older version of Caithleen, joins the intricate dance that Dietz sets in motion. Cait mingles with the others almost as if she were a ghost, but she is flesh and blood and the regret and resolve she carries are real.
Livingston captures the depth of Cait’s emotions, from darkest despair to a glimmer of hope. Chandra Bond imbues Caithleen with a charm that is tinged with a tender vulnerability. Trent Trachtenberg is delightful as the wide-eyed Robbie. John D. Reinhart balances melancholy with humor as Robert, a man who is desperate for a second chance at love.
Bloomsday is performed on The Elite’s smaller ETC Stage, which feels just right — meaning that it’s close and intimate. Livingston’s sparse set and Pat Lawler’s minimal sound and lighting prove you don’t need bells and whistles to transport an audience to another time and place.
The power of the words do that handily. Under Tom Mueller’s direction, the actors let Dietz’s dialogue shine through. In addition to his own words, Dietz weaves lines from Ulysses into the play. It’s a lovely, effective tribute, even with Robert’s occasional well-meaning digs at Joyce. More than that, Joyce’s voice echoes like a sumptuous through-line from one time to another. At the end of the day, what was once real and true remains so. No matter what year it is.
Bloomsday through Feb. 2 at The Elite, 2731 Victoria Ave., Oxnard. For more information, call 805-483-5118 or visit www.theelite.org.