By Lynn Venhaus

Set in Dublin, “Bloomsday” is a little charmer that whisks you away to the Emerald Isle in a time travel love story. (Yes, you read that right).

Written by Steven Dietz in 2017, the playwright has an ear for the rhythms of youthful adventurers and the wistful reminiscences of older adults.

“Bloomsday” highlights James Joyce’s use of the Irish capital city’s landmarks during an ordinary June 16 in 1904, the setting for his masterwork novel, “Ulysses,” which was published in 1920.

There is such devotion to the novel that every June 16, fans dress up as characters and celebrate Bloomsday in Dublin, some making a pilgrimage.

With his literary use of modernism, the Irish novelist, short story writer, poet, teacher, and critic is regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.

The West End Players Guild opened its 110th season with Dietz’s witty drama, which had been postponed from last year during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. His play, “This Random World,” was previously performed in the Union Avenue Christian Church basement.

With minimal staging representing several locales, West End is well-suited to produce such an intimate play. The pleasing set design features a view of Dublin’s shops and pubs lining cobblestone streets, with excellent artwork by Marjorie Williamson and Morgan Maul-Smith.

Four endearing performers star as a young couple, Robbie and Caithleen, in scenes from 35 years ago, and as the older Robert and Cait one day last June.

Megan Wiegart and Jeff Lovell. Photo by John Lamb.

Jeff Lovell, topped with a straw boater hat familiar to Joyce fans, plays the 55-year-old American college professor Robert, whose life changed during one magical day. He was 20 years old and taking a walking tour highlighting James Joyce’s Dublin.

That’s when he met tour guide Caithleen, 20, played with verve by Megan Wiegert. She won Robbie’s heart that day — but he did not take her back to America with him. Why not? The dreamer in her was certainly willing.

Wondering what might have been with “the one who got away” is the focus in this no-frills yet delightful production. The takeaway is to make the most of the present before it is past because we can’t get back lost time.

The cast conveys the urgency to pursue that road less taken so that looking back isn’t such a heartache. Dietz injects humor into the discoveries as the quartet moves back and forth through time, reliving the impetuousness of youth as the older adults look back with regrets and “what ifs.”

Could it still happen after all these years? The older Robert, with the benefit of hindsight, has returned to Dublin for a reunion with Caithleen, who now calls herself “Cait.” However, he finds the spunky young Caithleen instead, having somehow traveled back in time to that only day they spent together. She remains full of wanderlust, and he remembers her attractive qualities.

The young – and directionless — Robbie is played earnestly by an energetic John T. Moore, and the older Robert realizes he should have been more decisive.

Colleen Heneghan is a sweet-natured Cait, playing the spry but aged woman with a twinkle in her eye and a song still in her heart. The yearning to experience all that life offers is still there, although she basically settled for complacency. In her conversations with her younger self, she is surprisingly candid and explains her choices.

Both women have worked to perfect convincing Irish dialects, and those lovely lilts are uplifting.

Costume Designer Tracey Newcomb has outfitted the foursome in suitable attire for travels, age and time periods while Jackie Aumer accented the scenes with appropriate props.

The four are an engaging ensemble – all making their WEPG debut — and the creative team has made this a memorable romantic comedy. Director Jessa Knust, also making her debut, has ensured that the unusual format is understandable. She was assisted by Karen Pierce.

Celtic folk tunes are used effectively to set a merry mood, and Ted Drury’s sound design is noteworthy, with Mason Hagarty crisply operating the sound board. Jacob Winslow has done a nice job with the lighting design.

I felt like I was on an interesting journey, which is a good thing after being mostly housebound during quarantines and the 18-month public health crisis.

After all, no one is alone in wondering what might have been. Having some interesting points to ponder was entertaining live theater.

John T. Moore, Colleen Heneghan, Jeff Lovell, Megan Wiegart in “Bloomsday.” Photo by John Lamb.

The show has seven performances from Sept. 17 through Sept. 26, with Thursday, Friday and Saturday starting at 8 p.m. on the second weekend and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union in the Central West End. For tickets and more information, visit www.westendplayers.org

This season, the theater company is employing touchless ticketing, socially distanced seating and indoor masking of all patrons and front-of-house staff and volunteers. They are operating under special policies and procedures to minimize the risk of Covid-19 transmission and infection.  For full details on our public health policies, please visit www.WestEndPlayers.org/covid-19-policies/.

Okay, let’s try this one again.  The Lost Year is ending and the season that never happened is gone for good, but now our darkened theatre is getting ready to light up once again.  Plan to join us in September for opening night of our 110th season of Big Theatre in a Small Space, with another exciting schedule of plays never or rarely seen in St. Louis.  

            September 17-26, 2021:  What if you could go back in time and change the one moment that reshaped your life forever?  What if you could see a lost love of 40 years ago just one more time, to learn how her life turned out?  Would you?  Steven Dietz’s Bloomsday, a bittersweet tale of love won and lost on the Emerald Isle, poses the questions.  The answers are for you to discover.  Jessa Knust makes her WEPG directing debut.   

            December 10-19, 2021:  Shirley Lauro’s A Piece of My Heart is, according to one reviewer, “six women telling a story you are not sure you want to hear.”  Four young military nurses, a Red Cross worker and a USO singer fly off to the Vietnam war, full of hope and driven by their desire to serve.  But the life they live there breaks their hearts and, for some, their lives.  Yes, it’s a story you may not want to hear, but it’s also one you’ll never forget.  Dani Mann directs.

            February 11-20, 2022:  In an alternate universe much like our own, in a budget motel room in a snowy part of the country called New Hampshire, the first woman to make a serious run at a major party’s presidential nomination is teetering on the brink of elimination from a race that hasn’t even really started yet; and her husband, himself an ex-president, isn’t helping much.  The play is Hillary and Clinton, Lucas Hnath’s take on what might have happened in that motel room.  Is Hnath’s tale history or fantasy?  We can’t say for sure, but we can promise a show that is smart, funny and full of characters you just might recognize.  Tim Naegelin directs his first WEPG production. 

            April 29-May 8, 2022:  We end our season where it began – in Ireland.  But Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s The Lonesome West is no warm-hearted Irish love story.  This dark, dark comedy is the tale of Coleman and Valene, two brothers who can barely keep from killing each other.  McDonagh makes you laugh and laugh at things that really shouldn’t be laughed about.  But go ahead and laugh out loud.  We won’t tell.  Robert Ashton returns to WEPG to direct.   

            Season tickets for the upcoming season go on sale in July online at WestEndPlayers.org/tickets. Individual show tickets will go on sale in August.  All shows are at the theatre in the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Boulevard in the Central West End.  Watch for further announcements and check for more information, including public health protocols to be observed at the performances (when they are finalized), at WestEndPlayers.org

Actors, take note:  Auditions for A Piece of My Heart, Hillary and Clinton and The Lonesome West will be held July 17 (Bloomsday, originally scheduled to be presented in April, 2020, has already been cast).  More information and audition sides will be posted at WestEndPlayers.org/auditions in June. 

“Silent Sky” Photo by John Lamb

            West End Players Guild is the region’s oldest continuously-operated theatre company, presenting “big theatre in a small space” since 1911. 

For 2019-2020, West End Players Guild offers an exciting menu of plays never or rarely seen in St. Louis, including a world premiere commissioned exclusively for WEPG. 

            September 27-October 6, 2019:  Bill Cain’s Equivocation is a Shakespearean tale of intrigue starring the Bard himself.  The King offers Shakespeare a commission he can’t refuse, to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament.  Shakespeare discovers it is a perilous assignment, as he learns that the King’s version of the story does not quite square with the facts.  Shakespeare is torn between the between the truth and the Crown.  Can he walk this tightrope without losing his head (literally)?  Tom Kopp directs. 

            December 6-15, 2019:  It’s the world premiere of Vladimir Zelevinsky’s The Cricket on the Hearth, an adaptation of the Charles Dickens story, commissioned and written especially for WEPG.  Steve Callahan directs this tale of unlikely but undying love, a holiday heart-warmer that will both entertain and move you. 

            February 21-March 1:  Sharon’s husband and son are gone and her big Iowa house feels very lonely.  Maybe a roommate will help.  Enter Robyn, who turns out to be someone quite different than she appears to be.  Sean Belt directs Jen Silverman’s The Roommate, a very funny show about standing up to life and daring to do something totally new.  It’s a lesson in life and a quirky “buddy comedy” all rolled up in one.     

            April 17-26, 2020:  What if you could go back in time and change the one moment that reshaped your life forever?  What if you could see a lost love of 40 years ago just one more time, to learn how her life turned out?  Would you?  Steven Dietz’s bittersweet Bloomsday poses the questions – the answers are for you to discover. Jessa Knust makes her WEPG directing debut.     

            Season tickets for the upcoming season go on sale May 1st online at www.WestEndPlayers.org/tickets. Individual show tickets will go on sale in August.  All shows are at the theatre in the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Boulevard in the Central West End.  Actors, take note:  Auditions for Season 109 will begin in June. Watch for further announcements and check for more information at www.WestEndPlayers.org/auditions. 

            West End Players Guild is the region’s oldest continuously-operated theatre company, presenting “big theatre in a small space” since 1911.