SOLANA BEACH – There is a festival in Ireland called Bloomsday, a celebration of the life and work of Irish writer James Joyce, who wrote the seminal modernist novel “Ulysses.” The celebration takes place on June 16, the date in which the novel takes place, and involves such activities as pub crawling, reading from the book and dressing up in Edwardian fashion.
“Bloomsday” the play was written by Steven Dietz, and its story centers around a middle-aged couple — an American man and an Irish woman — who somehow end up going back in time and encountering their 20-something-year-old selves. North Coast Repertory has billed the play as a “sweet and engaging” show that delves into the idea of rewriting the past, perhaps literally so in this case.
Andrew Barnicle directs the show that will launch North Coast Rep into the new decade. “I have strong Irish roots, and I was attracted to this, the notion of a play that takes place in and around Dublin, which is a city I’ve visited many times,” he said.
He calls the play a story of what might have been, a poetic piece about love. Dwelling on the past seems to be a fitting theme; Barnicle pointed out that through research conducted via Google Maps, he discovered that many of the locations described in Ulysses are in the same state they were over 100 years ago.
Barnicle described his directing style as trying to figure out the tone and feeling of the show, then seeing how his actors can contribute to that tone. He makes an outline of how he wants to approach the show, and then the energy of the actors changes it. “It’s more of a collective journey than anything else,” he said.
One thing challenging about producing the play, he said, was tackling its handling of time travel, considering that it’s a fantastical element. “But we still have to act it and believe it.”
To help sell the illusion that the same two characters are sharing the stage with their younger selves, the four lead actors — Martin Kildare, Jacquelyn Ritz, Hunter Saling and Rachel Weck — watch each other during rehearsals, learning such things like how their temporal counterparts deliver their lines. “They were cast partly because of their physical resemblance to each other,” Barnicle said. “A lot of good actors weren’t cast because we couldn’t find someone who resembled them.”
Another reason why some of these actors were chosen was because they were already proficient in speaking in Irish accents. Indeed, getting the atmosphere of Ireland right has also been an important facet of production. Projections will be used to show off the wide variety of locations that are part of the Bloomsday tour.
In addition, some elements of Ulysses will be relevant to the story, though Barnicle stressed that prior knowledge of the book is not required to appreciate the play. “It’s a romance and a fantasy and a love story,” he said. “And it’s really interesting.”
The show will play from Jan. 8 to Feb. 2, Wednesdays at 7 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. Previews will be $46; week nights, Wednesday and Saturday matinees will be $52; Saturday evening and Sunday matinees will be $57; Sunday nights will be $49.
There will be a preview matinee on Friday, Jan. 10 at 2 p.m., and a special talkback show will play the next week on Jan. 17 as well as a $52 Wednesday matinee on Jan. 29 at 2 p.m.