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Theater review: Bloomsday at 35below

Theater review: Bloomsday at 35below

At the core of the play Bloomsday is a concept that’s somewhat difficult to grasp at first, but becomes quite moving once the parameters grow clearer.

Written by Steven Dietz and originally produced in Seattle, the production at 35below is directed by Jason Williams, who sharply blends a fateful day in the life of potential lovers Caithleen (Emmalie Handley) and Robbie (Connor Nielsen) with their counterparts from 35 years in the future, Cait (Paula O’Brien) and Robert (Doug Sparks).

Set in Dublin on the titular Joycean holiday in an undefined year — a camera that uses film is about the only detail that suggests an era, and modern technology never plays a part — there’s temporary confusion of characters from both timelines intermingling in the past (or is it the present?) that makes one wonder if a tricked-out Delorean will make an appearance.

The mystery eventually dissipates, however, and brings about a more intriguing one that explores the malleable nature of memories and the risks involved in revisiting painful personal histories.

Though there’s richness to the ache and regret that Robert carries around with him and a tragedy to his young counterpart’s obliviousness of what’s to come, the future fears and complicated presents of the Caithleen/Cait parts are the juicier roles and Handley and especially O’Brien, whose accent work is immaculate, dig in with emotional results.

On opening night, Sparks was a tad soft-spoken at times in the first act, but developed greater confidence in his voice as the show forged ahead, notably when accosting his earlier iteration. Reminiscent of pre-Solo Alden Ehrenreich, Nielsen exudes the boyish charm of 20-year-old Robbie and is inspired to his best moments in Handley’s endearing presence.

Williams’ basic but effective production design of a faux brick background with a pair of colorful doors keeps the focus squarely on the characters and the increasingly immersive narrative. While the cast elicits a good number of laughs, it may also bring forth a few tears as it sparks memories of make-or-break moments and their lasting reverberations.

Bloomsday runs Aug. 3-19, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. For tickets, visit ashevilletheatre.org

(Photo by Jason Williams)

Theater review: Mamma Mia! at Flat Rock Playhouse

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