Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

James Joyce

Himself and Nora – James Joyce and Nora Barnacle


Himself and Nora has enough admirable things going for it that one leaves disappointed author Jonathan Brielle didn’t receive more constructive criticism. The piece is often entertaining and (sketchily) illuminating for those unfamiliar with the iconic author’s trajectory. A good time can be had.

James Joyce (1882-1941) is best known for strong descriptions of intrinsic Irish character, stream of consciousness writing and breaking down obscenity barriers with language which is raw and direct (as well as often poetic). A lapsed Catholic, he spent much of his adulthood in self-imposed exile with chosen mate Nora Barnacle whom he wed after 27 years.


Matt Bogart and Whitney Bashor

When Joyce (Matt Bogart) first approaches Nora (Whitney Bashor) –in 1904, Brielle exhibits a real feel for the Irishman’s syntax and provocative language. “My mind is filled with nothing but the whatness of Nora…” When later, he accuses her of infidelity, vulgar images erupt.

Nora, in truth a chambermaid, is shown to be equal to cocky, alcoholic, educated Jimmy. “Many a lad wants me. Can you want me the way I want to be wanted?” She meets him crudity for crudity, proving the one woman he “can’t push around.”  With “Kiss” and “Compatriots in Lust” heat ignites recognition. These songs and “I Say Yes!,” a tease during which, attempting to cook, Nora playfully wields a carrot = his member, are infectiously well directed.


Whitney Bashor

The playwright portrays Nora with stubbornness and pragmatism, but also native intelligence, exemplifying a natural turn of words thought by many to have been mined by Joyce for his stories. He also manages to depict the author’s snobbery as integral to out-sized egotism.

Dared to accept a life of ostensible creative freedom dictated by Joyce’s need to write instead of his becoming the doctor or barrister his Da (yeoman-like Michael McCormick) desires, Nora, against everything she’s been taught in the Catholic Church, accepts love without matrimony. We see only a moment of shock before other priorities take hold. The couple leaves Ireland and the hounding admonishment of religion. Ireland, however, as encompassed in his work, never leaves Joyce.


Whitney Bashor and Matt Bogart

Nor, unfortunately does one of its priests (Zachary Prince) who is irritatingly omnipresent throughout. There’s not a moment this device works. Brielle suggests that Joyce’s entire life was a reaction to Catholicism, whereas it’s likely he simply disdained its prejudice and pressures as much as anyone instilled with that ideology can manage. It’s even stated that Leopold Bloom (of Ulysses) was conceived as Jewish to get back at public adversaries. (The less said about Prince’s accent or acting the better.)

Struggling to get by in Trieste, the hero teaches English with a tongue-twister. “River Lifey,” filled with Irish locales. What ?! Obscenity laws prevent the publication of most anything Joyce has written. (There was, additionally, a play and poetry.) Subsidized by his brother Stanislaus, the family, (now with two children), is nonetheless poor, not the least because Joyce drinks up donated funds. (Bogart does fall-down-drunk just fine but is unconvincing embodying the state on his feet.) One of the author’s eyes is infected. (Endless operations follow.) ‘Go buy me bigger paper-and red ink,” he demands.


Lianne Marie Dobbs, Matt Bogart, Michael McCormick, Zachary Prince

A visit home (by Joyce alone) contains a pedestrian drinking song about the Irish in tandem with correspondence between Joyce and Nora, he egging her on to express sexuality, she taking some time to be provoked. “I hear you pantin’, you old mongrel in heat…” she finally writes. (Another good directorial turn.) Joyce’s father is neither here nor there in the play. An inconsequential song later appears to have been written so the production gets its money’s worth out of the actor.

Nor do I understand bringing the kids into it. (Georgio was a sometime singer, Lucia, a dancer who became schizophrenic and was institutionalized.) Reference would’ve been sufficient. Again, with one foot in and one out, “The Children of Mr. Joyce” is weak. Lianne Marie Dobbs who plays all the other women’s roles, including Lucia, is, however, appealing here as well as playing bookstore owner/publisher Sylvia Beach.


Lianne Marie Dobbs, Michael McCormick

Ezra Pound (McCormick) and patroness Miss Shaw Weaver foot the bill to get the Joyces to Paris in hopes the French will be less conservative about publishing. There are two vaudeville songs in Act II, one of which is sheer Marx Brothers. They might fit better if they sounded the least bit Irish. Or French. Direction of the latter, “For I Am the Grand Himself,” makes the protagonist effeminate.

With a little subterfuge and the enthusiasm of Beach, Ulysses is shepherded to the public. We might end the story there or with the couple’s marriage, but Brielle chooses to show how success adversely affects the drunkard, to further bring in religion, and to wind up with Joyce’s unexpected death after an operation for a perforated ulcer. We open and close on the death with an unnecessary sequence of goodbye/I love you songs – one would do, and a wake. The play could successfully be cut by 15 minutes.


Lianne Marie Dobbs, Michael McCormick, Zachary Prince, Whitney Bashor, Matt Bogart

Jonathan Brielle is on shaky ground with some of these ballads, but good with rousing songs. Orchestrations/arrangements begin with Irish flavor which alas dissipates as the show progresses. Literate lyrics as noted can be a pleasure. The book is uneven, but when good makes one long for more like it.

Whitney Bashor (Nora) is credibly earthy, determined, bawdy, and seductive. In split second musical-time, you can practically see Nora weighing options. Her eyes bore and flash. Physical acting is wholehearted. Vocals are engaging. The actress has the only consistently good Irish accent onstage.


Whitney Bashor and Matt Bogart

As James Joyce, Matt Bogart is less dependably in character. First clinches generate steam, later ones seem like going through the motions. Nora seems to salivate, he does not. I buy Joyce’s elitism but not the horrible realization that occurs when Nora walks out. The actor has a fine, resonant voice, which could have better contributed to atmosphere with a sure Irish accent. Perhaps focus was just off tonight.

Director Michael Bush creates adroit visuals with his lovers. Company numbers are lively and well imagined. He even manages to move the intrusive priest in and out of every scene with fluency. Pacing is skilled.

Kelli Barclay’s Choreography is delightful, from ebullient waltzes to Lucia’s Martha- Grahamish turn. Paul Tate dePoo III (Scenic Design) creates solidity and period.

Amy Clark’s Costumes are good except for the decision to dress Pound and Shaw as if they were performing in a music hall for the vaudeville number – wink, wink, diminishing its already nebulous point.

Photos by Matthew Murphy
Opening: Whitney Bashor & Matt Bogart

Himself and Nora 
Book, Music & Lyrics by Jonathan Brielle
Directed by Michael Bush
Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane

The Women of Irish Literature


Ireland has long been rightly renowned as a country of storytellers that has birthed such legendary authors as Johnathon Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, Oscar Wilde, and James Joyce. But with St. Patrick’s Day around the corner and this being the year of Hillary Clinton’s historic candidacy it seems appropriate to consider some of Ireland’s leading female authors. Many of the books by these authors are out of print, but a handful have been reissued for succeeding generations to enjoy. Click on a book’s cover to learn more and order on Amazon.

Anne Burke (1780-1805) Anne has once worked as a governess and after finding herself widowed with a son to support she took up writing. She specialized in Gothic novels and was one of the earliest women writers in the genre.

Rosa Mulholland (1841-1921) Also known as Lady Gilbert, Rose was a novelist, poet, and playwright. She originally wanted to be a painter but received encouragement in her literary aspirations from Charles Dickens! Dickens greatly admired her work and encouraged her to continue. Her first novel Dumana was published in 1864 under the pen name Ruth Murray.

Edith Somerville (1858-1949) and Violet Martin (1862-1915) These two ladies were cousins who wrote under the pseudonym of Somerville and Ross. Together they published a total of fourteen novels and collections of stories until Violet’s death in 1915.  Whereupon Edith continued to publish works under “Somerville and Ross,” claiming that she and Violet continued to collaborate via spiritualist séances.

M.E. Francis (1859-1930) M.E. Francis was the pen name of Mary Elizabeth Brundell an astonishingly prolific novelist who published dozens of works, she was described as being the best known female novelist of her time.

Jesse Louisa Rickard (1876-1963) Though she didn’t publish her first novel Young Mr. Gibbs (1912) until she was 36, Jesse was an extremely prolific writer who published over forty novels ranging from light comedy to crime novels.  She was a founding member of the Detective Writers Club along with Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, and Agatha Christie.

Kate O’Brien (1897-1974) Kate was an novelist and playwright whose books dealt with themes of female agency and sexuality. At the time this was quite controversial, in fact it was so controversial that her 1936 novel Mary Lavelle was banned in Ireland and Spain while her 1941 novel The Land of Spices was banned in Ireland on publication.

Deirdre Purcell (born 1945) Dierdre is a former stage actress as well as having done tv and press journalism. She has published twelve critically acclaimed novels all of which have been best sellers in Ireland.

Anne Enright (born 1962)  While Anne had won the 1991 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and the 2001 Encore award she was still relatively obscure until her 2007 novel The Gathering won the 2007 Man Booker Prize-a decision that was made unanimously by the jury. Since then she has written two more novel The Forgotten Waltz (2011) which was short-listed for the Orange Prize and won the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and The Green Road (2015) which won the award for Irish Novel of the Year.

Tana French (born 1973) Tana is a theatrical actress and novelist whose debut novel Into the Woods (2007) won the Edgar and Anthony awards for best first novel.  She is referred to as the First Lady of Irish Crime and she has another novel The Trespasser scheduled for release this August.

Eimear McBride (born 1976) Eimear wrote her debut novel A Girl is a Half Formed Thing in just six months but it took nine years to get it published. The book then went on to win numerous awards including the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for fiction and Desmond Elliott Prize for debut novelists.