“Himself and Nora,” a musical drama by Broadway composer and lyricist Jonathan Brielle, begins with the death of James Joyce, one of Ireland’s most influential and celebrated writers.
The play spans from 1941 to 1903, working backward in time to Joyce’s youth and the beginning of his love affair with Nora Barnacle, an uneducated chambermaid from Galway.
“Everything that is noble and exalted and deep and true and moving in what I write comes, I believe, from you,” Joyce wrote to Barnacle.
It is remarkable that his passion for her continued unabated until his death. The couple loved each other “on every level, warts and all,” writes author Brielle. This is, above all else, a love story.
“Himself and Nora” opens Friday, April 13, and runs through May 13 at Collaborative Theatre, 555 Medford Center. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. Sundays. All other tickets are $28, $22 for seniors, $18 for students and can be purchased at ctporegon.org or by calling 541-779-1055.
On Jan. 11, 1941, Joyce underwent surgery in Zurich for a perforated ulcer. He fell into a coma the following day. When he awoke two days later, he asked a nurse to call his wife and son, before he lost consciousness again. They were en route to the hospital when he died 15 minutes later, just before his 59th birthday.
Brielle presents “another little-known fact,” which formed the basis of the show.
“I imagined the musical as the missing 15 minutes Nora wished she could have had with her husband,” he says in a press release prepared by Collaborative Theatre Project. “The musical can be played as Nora remembering their lives together, or as Joyce, in purgatory, finding the words Nora will need to continue without him.”
Brielle will make an appearance May 3 at CTP.
Joyce’s most famous work, “Ulysses,” follows the movements of Leopold Bloom through a single day, June 16, 1904. “Ulysses” is based on Homer’s “The Odyssey.”
True to the nature of Joyce, “Himself and Nora” is a lusty musical and is recommended for mature audiences.
“It tells the struggles of his writing, his health and his relationships,” says CTP director Daniel Sessions Stephens, “all bound up in his conflict with religious and social conventions.”
Stephens also creates choreography for this six-person show. Cody Pettit is James Joyce, and Wyn Reed is Nora Barnacle. An ensemble cast — Rhea Johnston, Catherine Hansen, Erny Rosales and William Coyne — play multiple characters that peopled the world of the Joyces.
Lighting and sound design is by Mike Kunkel, costumes by Susan Aversa-Orrego. Dinah Greenfield is the stage manager, and Nic Temple is music director.