Oh, the glorious sound of words. The words of James Joyce and his muse/lover and eventual wife as interpreted by the multi talented Jonathan Brielle in his new musical HIMSELF and NORA. Mr. Brielle has written the book, lyrics and a fine Irish flavored score to this most interesting show. It is intelligent, humorous, sexy and extremely moving, starring two stars in the making – Matt Bogart and Jessica Burrows.
On a simple and stark set (Michael V. Moore) at The Theatre at St. Clement’s as part of NYMF an Irish wake is being held for the arrogant, abrasive and charming as hell recently departed Mr. Joyce – Himself (a dashing Matt Bogart) and immediately the conflict begins with Nora (a sturdy and feisty Jessica Burrows) viewing his body; setting up their tempestuous relationship which we will follow for three decades.
As they verbally spar with one another, as he ardently gropes under her skirt or she bounces on his lap in ecstasy we see that they are infatuated with one another as he is plagued by an omnipresent priest (Brian Sills). Himself has met his match. She is as strong as he is. But he needs his freedom. He won’t be tied down. They make a handsome and passionate couple mostly interested in coupling and writing and speaking, climaxing in “Compatriots in Lust” – just one of the many fine songs on tap.
Throughout the two hour show under the careful and sharp direction of Michael Bush we wonder if he will ever change. Will they ever marry, if not will he at least be civil and kind with her? Will Nora stay or leave? How much of his drinking can she put up with? Will his monumental tome Ulysses be published? Will he go blind? Will he reconcile with his dad John Joyce (a superb David Arthur)?
HIMSELF and NORA is a touching and thoughtful and theatrical telling of their eternal if rocky love for one another. There are so many beautiful songs and beautiful moments:
Nora’s decision to “Stand Fast” – The English that Joyce attempts to teach to the Italians of Trieste is amazing as it is amusing – “River Liffey” which is reprised for the unexpected and rousing finale which had the audience begging the actors for another curtain call.
In exile from Ireland often, they wind up in Paris “all expenses paid” to finish and publish Ulysses. But the now mustached and bow tied Mr. Joyce has to be convinced to let a woman publish it. Fascinating insights into both their personalities are revealed in Act II with Nora’s brilliant “Without a Man”, Joyce’s “Always in Love” and “Touch Kiss” which will open the tear ducts to flow freely.
The letters they exchange during their separation is a beautiful piece of stagecraft. But the tragic cum comedy outcome of their two grown bastard children Giorgio (he a drinker-Sills) and Lucia (she a bit crazed-Wing) “The Children of Mister Joyce” is an odd addition.
Setting the periods precisely are the costumes by Sara Jean Tosetti. Kelli Barclay has created some fine dances that perk up the mood when it has gotten so serious. The pacing of the show helps tremendously and J.B. Wing manages to make each of her characterizations meaningful.
But it is the glorious words and music of Mr. Brielle that make HIMSELF and NORA so moving, exciting and truly an affair to remember.
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