In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

Regrets and sadness mark "Bloomsdday," the outstanding production at Next Act Theatre. (PHOTO: Ross Zentner)

Failure to seize the moment leads to heartbreak in Next Act's "Bloomsday"

For many of us, there is a moment in time, a moment when something could have happened, should have happened, but didn't, and the regret drapes us like a shroud over our shoulders.

That moment in time is explored with wondrous sense and sensibility in "Bloomsday," the Steven Dietz play underway at Next Act Theatre. It's the final show of the season for David Cecsarini, who has turned in another outstanding season perhaps unmatched anywhere in town.

Joseph Hanreddy, the former artistic director at Milwaukee Rep, takes the helm in this production, savoring the twists and turns of the plot while steering us gently down the middle of the road of this beautiful play. It's like a dramatic staging of Robert Frost's famous "The Road Not Taken."

This is the story of a romance that almost happened between a boy and a girl. The four actors play the couple, Robert (Robbie) and Cait (Caithleen). Norman Moses and Carrie Hitchcock play the boy and girl at 55, 35 years after their paths crossed on a rainy day in Dublin. Kyle Curry and Jordan Watson play the boy and girl on that fateful day.

The interplay takes place between all parties. Robert and Robbie, Cait and Caithleen, Caithleen and Robert, Robbie and Cait, Robbie and Caithleen and, at the end, Robert and Cait in a scene that rips your heart out – and left many in the audience in tears.

The crying was not just for what could have been. It was also for what was and what is. Where these two lives ended up, Robert full of longing and determination to right a wrong, and Cait, institutionalized in the same hospital where her mother had died.

On one stormy day, Robbie took a tour of James Joyce's Dublin, the part that comes from his classic, "Ulysses." Caithleen is the tour guide, clutching a book that she's never read to her chest as she took the rapidly disintegrating tour from stop to stop to stop.

Bloomsday in Dublin is a day celebrated annually in Dublin to commemorate Joyce and his novel. It's day when people dress in turn of the century costumes and party and drink as only a Dubliner can do.

There is a moment when Robbie and Caithleen find themselves alone, and the romantic tension is palpable. A kiss seems near.

"There is nothing like a kiss," Caithleen says. "Long and hot. Down to your soul. It's almost like you are paralyzed." She wants to see things, and he wants to show them to her. In America, driving in his car, from coast to coast.

But, like all good romances, she runs away.

"We've got to be able to pretend," she says. "Pretend the future is never going to happen,."

Robbie searches for her desperately, but fails. She returns, suitcase packed for adventure, but he is gone. Hearts break and they both move on with their lives.

Thirty-five years later, Robert returns to Dublin, having tracked down Cait. He is there out of regret and in the hope of recapture, a hope without hope.

Hanreddy delivers the kind of nuanced and sophisticated production with the kind of skill that has made him a hot commodity in the world of theatrical directors. He has brought intelligence and focus to a script that has the potential to wander and even confuse.

He is helped, immensely, by a cast that is at the top of the acting pyramid.

Moses and Hitchcock, husband and wife, are magnificent. Watching each of them is like seeing a master class in acting.

One of the most difficult things for an actor to learn is how to stand still. Just stand, without wildly inappropriate gestures. Watching both Moses and Hitchcock just stand is, in itself, a breathtaking experience.

Curry and Watson are relatively new to Milwaukee, but both have made marks. She was devastatingly smart and honest at In Tandem's "Time Stands Still" this year, while Curry brought remarkable depth to his role in "Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher about Evolution," also at Next Act.

Curry is the ultimate American boy overseas. So taken with this girl that all the photos he takes on the tour, four rolls worth of film, are of her, not of Dublin. His character could easily be a stereotype, but Curry finds pieces of Robbie that are surprising in their honesty.

Watson is an absolute marvel, disciplined as a character whose mouth sometimes runs before her brain toggles on. She's colorful, whip smart and has more sides and complexities than a Rubik's Cube.

Cecsarini has built a reputation that is so vibrant that, each time I go to Next Act, I fully expect to be marveled. And over the last two seasons, I have never been disappointed.

"Bloomsday" runs through April 30 and information on showtimes and tickets is available here.

Production credits: Director, Joseph Hanreddy; Scenic Design, Rick Rasmussen; Lighting Design, Jason Fassl; Costume Design, Aria Thornton; Sound Design, Grover Hollway; Properties Design, Heidi Salter & Shannon Sloan-Spice; Stage Manager, Jessica Connelly.


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