Inspired by Ulysses, a new Steven Dietz play travels through time.

What does it mean to return to a place, to a memory, to another time in your life? ACT Theatre’s world premiere of Steven Dietz’s Bloomsday searches for answers to these questions.

“The play piggybacks on the sort of energy, madness and eloquence of Ulysses,” says Dietz, who’s based in Seattle. “It’s not about Ulysses itself so much as the book’s fundamental aspect that you can tell the story of a life by telling one day.”

Published in 1922, James Joyce’s mega-novel Ulysses charts the life of an Irish man, Leopold Bloom, on June 16, 1904—a day now celebrated annually as Bloomsday worldwide. Dietz’s play finds a modern-day, middle-aged American time-traveling to 1980s Dublin in search of the woman he once loved, a Bloomsday tour guide. Its four characters are played by actors Sydney Andrews, Eric Ankrim, Peter Crook and Marianne Owen.

“Imagine what it would be like to encounter yourself at a point that, in retrospect, you realize was a crucial moment in your life. Could your older self make sense of the younger version?” says Kurt Beattie, the play’s director and ACT’s artistic director. “It’s a wonderfully charming conceit. In Ulysses and in the play, people are searching for meaning and affection.”

When a group of eight ACT patrons commissioned Dietz to create a new work in 2013 (Bloomsday marks the playwright’s 11th production with the company), he originally envisioned a comedy. But life steered his focus elsewhere when a long-planned family trip to Ireland was preceded by personal losses.

“It was such a cauldron of emotions, and that translated into themes of loss, ache and regret along with jokes and romance,” Dietz says. “I came home not with the play I wanted to write, but the play I needed to write.”

Bloomsday can be enjoyed without knowledge of the novel, but Joyce fans will appreciate the threads of Ulysses’ DNA woven throughout.

“There is an abandon, a euphoria, an ecstatic quality to [Joyce’s] writing that was a reminder not to play it safe linguistically,” Dietz says. “As a playwright, it was a reminder that language can literally change the air.” 

Sept. 11 – Oct. 11
ACT Theatre

Seattle is fertile ground for a Bloomsday-based play. The city is home to internationally renowned Joycean scholars, Ulysses readings, film screenings, art exhibits and more. Read more about them here.

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