James Joyce, the author’s love for Nora and his journey to get published provides the structure of Himself and Nora. Some beautiful singing provides the breath and soul of the play. Wonderful performances by Matt Bogart (as Joyce) and Whitney Bashor (as Nora) bring these two characters to life. So the question becomes, why is the whole not better.
Himself and Nora isn’t a bad musical by any stretch. It is an involving story that sheds new light on the personality and struggles of the famous author, making him more human and accessible. For most of the two plus hours, it is almost a great show.
It starts with the irascible but charming James Joyce in Ireland, where he fights with his dad, buries his mom, rejects the Catholic Church and meets a charming young woman, Nora. Joyce and Nora share a remarkable emotional and sexual chemistry at the outset, but Joyce won’t marry. He won’t subject himself to the Catholic rite that approves of his choice. Nora, understanding the man she loves and willing to be a partner, not a wife, agrees to the arraignment.
Matt Bogart and Whitney Bashor in ‘Himself and Nora’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)
And just like that, the Joyces are off. First to Trieste, where they struggle and live happily as James writes, teaches, and drinks. A visit back to Ireland to get published convinces him that Ireland will never accept him. Luckily, he finds a sponsor and publisher in Paris, where he and Nora settle down.
The second act is less heartwarming, as many biographical pieces tend to be. IN fact, it is a slog. Success has come, but James Joyce wants more: the next county that will publish Ulysses, the next book and most of all, the American market. Nora, fed up with being the mother of bastards, wants to get married. The children are problems, with the Joyce daughter being sent to a mental institution. World War II rears its head. And then Joyce dies. And, in the worst of biographical musical traditions, he dies for a long time. Three songs at least, and we haven’t been able to make that investment in the character.
The music and the singing are wonderful, and the acting is excellent; Himself and Norajust needed someone to edit it ruthlessly. The supporting cast, Lianne Marie Dobbs, Zachary Prince and Michael McCormick, all shine in multiple roles. Director Michael Bush does a very good job with the spare stage and trappings, focusing the attention onto the cast. It is frustrating, because there is a great musical there in Himself and Nora could unburden itself of the extraneous.
Book, Music & Lyrics: Jonathan Brielle | Director: Michael Bush | Cast: Matt Bogart. Whitney Bashor, Lianne Marie Dobbs, Zachary Prince, Michael McCormick | website