SOLANA BEACH – “Bloomsday” (the play) feels light in comparison to the doorstopper novel “Ulysses” from which it can credit its birth. The Steven Dietz-penned play is named for the annual celebration of James Joyce’s novel, which Robert lambasts as being too long and stuffy for its own good. As if to compensate for this, “Bloomsday” the play contents itself on being relatively light on plot, but filled with poetic, romantic whimsy.
The play concerns Robert (Martin Kildare in a naturalistic performance), an American divorcee, and Cait (Jacquelyn Ritz), an Irish woman with a history of mental illness in her family, traveling back in time to speak to their younger selves in Dublin on the day they met: June 16, Bloomsday. Whether or not they really go back in time or if they are both imagining conversations with the memories of their younger counterparts is never quite clear, though in the grand scheme of things it hardly matters.
Throughout the play, we see the older versions of these characters, Robert and Cait, grapple with what might have been, though in varying fashions. Robert is angry with Robbie, his younger and more disheveled self (Hunter Saling) for having missed his chance with Caithleen and berates him for it. If you ever wanted to see a character literally and figuratively take himself to task for chances missed, well, here’s your chance. Saling in particular really nails the exasperated confusion that comes with talking to two people who seem to know a little too much about you.
What’s also interesting about the older Robert is that his regret manifests in his apparent disdain for Ulysses, which he discovered thanks to Caithleen (Rachel Weck). But he can also quote any passage when prompted, interestingly. The play falls back not only on the theme of nostalgia, but that old sentiment “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” In this case, Robert has grown fond of the book that has become symbolic of his big “what if?”
As for Cait, she is much more playful with Robbie and Caithleen, teasing them and offering local confections. Unlike Robert, she is not wholly rueful about what might have been, instead giving Caithleen hope that her mental illness, which causes her to perceive past, present and future at once, will not conquer her. Ritz’s performance is a well of hope and light-heartedness, and Weck balances enthusiasm with a tearful anxiety that’s always at the brim of bubbling to the surface.
That’s the gist of act one, these two timelines smashing together and criss-crossing over one another. Act two dives into the hearts of a young man on an impulse vacation and a young woman eager to share her enthusiasm for “Ulysses,” and the doomed romance between them. The dialogue and interaction(s) between the couples from both past and present are poetic, genuine and heartfelt.
The play is no tragedy, nor is it (too) somber, but if you find yourself the romantic type, it’s sure to leave some sort of wistful ache in your heart that yearns for a second chance.
Bloomsday runs until Feb. 2, and will play Wednesdays at 7 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. and Sunday nights at 7 p.m. A special talkback show will take place on Friday, Jan. 17, as well as a Jan. 29 matinee at 2 p.m. for $52.
Standard ticket prices are as follows: weeknights, as well as Wednesday and Saturday matinees are $52; Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees are $57; Sunday nights are $49. Seniors, students, members of the military and educators receive a $3 discount.