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Lost Love & James Joyce Inspire "Bloomsday" at Ensemble

James Joyce’s epic novel Ulysses (based on epic Greek myth The Odyssey) charts the life of an Irishman, Leopold Bloom, on June 16, 1904, proving that even an ordinary day can be extraordinary. June 16 is now celebrated annually as Bloomsday worldwide.

In the regional premiere of Bloomsday at Ensemble Theatre, playing April 4-23, playwright Steven Dietz imagines a time-traveling romance, about the past, present, and could-have-beens. And it invites us to answer the same question posed by Joyce: Why are we living our lives?

Robert is a modern-day, middle-aged American who returns to Dublin to re-connect with his past and a walking tour led by Cait, the guide he fell in love with 35 years earlier. He doesn’t merely reconnect with the past, he crashes into it, meeting his lost love and their younger selves.

At its heart, says director Michael Haney, Bloomsday is all about making the most of the present before it’s past.

Favorite local actors Annie Fitzpatrick and Barry Mulholland star as the almost-lovers today, who re-live the unlikely, inevitable events that brought them oh-so-briefly together. Their younger selves are played by Becca Howell and Patrick Phillips.

Haney has directed some of the region’s most memorable evenings of theater over the course of the last 20-plus years and was long-time associate artistic director of Playhouse in the Park. He relocated to Minneapolis a couple of years ago and now his occasional returns to Cincinnati stages are a must for area theater fans.

“It’s the kind of thing people don’t talk about in conversation, but it’s something everybody does – ask ourselves, ‘What if I could change that moment, done this, taken that job? If I had to do it again, what would I do?’ The only place you can have that conversation is in your own mind.”

Steven Dietz is the most produced playwright at Ensemble, and that record will be extended next season with the regional premiere of This Random World, in which an array of characters have experiences across the globe which turn out to be inter-related.

Haney observes that Dietz’s last several scripts have been playing in different ways with the questions key to Bloomsday. “He calls them ‘fork-in-the road’ plays,” Haney says.

Haney, Dietz and Ensemble first came together 20 years ago when he directed there for the first time, Dietz’s Private Eyes. Haney enjoys the playwright because, “he surprises – he likes to explore what make his characters human in extraordinary ways.”

These days Haney is directing around the U.S. This summer he’ll be in Missouri, and in the fall he’ll work on a new play in Alaska. (The last new play he worked on in Alaska was Summerland, which premiered earlier this season at Playhouse in the Park.) He returns to Cincinnati for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Cincinnati Shakespeare, and his beloved production of A Christmas Carol at Playhouse.

Bloomsday, Haney concludes, comes down to seven words from Ulysses, when Leo Bloom is at a funeral and imagines what the man in the coffin is thinking:

“Wait. I wanted to. I haven’t yet.”

Bloomsday, April 4-23. Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, 1028 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday. Tickets $28-$48, students $25. Rush tickets half-price (students $15) go on sale two hours prior to performance, when available. 513-421-3555 and www.ensemblecincinnati.org.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor