Himself and Nora: A Review

The Minetta Lane Theatre is a tiny hole in the wall, a small street doglegging off another small street down in the Village.  Even with a GPS, our driver found himself unable to get there until we redirected him several times.

The effort of making right after left after right paid off in the unexpectedly exalted play we saw.

“Himself” refers to the protean and magical Irish giant of the past century, James Augustine Aloysius Joyce, whose birthday is celebrated annually with a full day of readings and performances at NYC’s Symphony Space even now.  His epic, avant-garde oeuvre, majestic novels, and poetry still largely defeat the efforts of casual or unlettered readers, include the most studied tomes of the century.  He lived a bare 60 years but penned masterpieces that even now, decades after his death in Zurich, are still dissected, emulated, and doctorated out, 75 years on.

A man of genius makes no mistakes; his errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.

Nora, of course, is the fiery Muse he adored, lived with, and refused to legitimize as wife, even after 27 years and several children.  Playing the role with stubborn self-regard when women in Ireland and elsewhere were dismissed as "skirts," Whitney Bashor has a peppery tongue and a mellifluous, soaring voice that makes you forget where you are.

We expect large egos in men who have "arrived," such as the unconscionable overweening self-regard of the present administration head, or the current Republican frontrunner for president (raucously more successful for many decades than his rivals in the blue crowd, decades in a tough-nail business that brooks no subpar shallying) and such loopy larger than prosaic life personalities as Charles de Gaulle; the porcine, murderous Kim Jong-un; and the increasingly unhinged Turkish major domo, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.  Such men are not perhaps loved, but they have persisted over the rocky terrain of politics and prevailed to stay in office.

Joyce had yet to sell his magnum opus, Ulysses, and he went into exile, but he had the expansive, determined, intoxicated self-confidence that drove him to believe in his work even in the face of  years-long vituperative bans imposed from the reaches of the United States and the world’s skittish librarians and protectors in Miss Grundy Western precincts.  Finnegans Wake, too, of course, confounded the literati and professoriates.

The play features a short list of under ten members who dance, act, and sing – especially sing, with voices that call forth gratitude if one hears them in church choirs.  The acting is affecting enough to lead many to weeping as events transpire in the lives of these two and their kin and kith.  But the singing is rhapsodic, unexpectedly virile and persuasive.

Handsome Matt Bogart – last seen in Jersey Boys – rockets through his gift of a role with power and rugged vocal strength.  He embodies the manly, gutsy, and rambunctious poet/novelist.

Influenced by the Bard, Yeats, and Oscar Wilde, Joyce the writer polymath died much too soon in 1941, still a man with many works unwrit.  But although he’s gone, ere we knew him, lovers of literature and romance can experience a chunk of transcendent elegance and eloquence.  Quaff deeply of this linguistic and musical golden goblet.

Grievously, in a time of deracinated and prostituted cultural offerings, the literacy and quality of Himself & Nora are an emotional and singular pleasure we might not be accessible to in a few years of lowest-bar, rancid hanging fruit.

Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.

Until the end of 2016.  At the Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, NYC.