A new off-Broadway musical wants audiences to check almost everything they’ve gleaned about one of the twentieth century’s most influential authors from history books at the theater door.
“Himself and Nora,” which opened June 6 at New York’s Minetta Lane Theatre, is loosely based on the life of James Joyce, who wrote Ulysses and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. But the show, which features music, lyrics and a book by Jonathan Brielle, focuses less on the author’s literary accomplishments and more on his nearly four-decade long, surprisingly sexy relationship with Nora Barnacle, his wife and muse.
Matt Bogart was tapped by Brielle to play Joyce in the show’s first incarnation at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California in 2005. Like much of America, the Broadway veteran (“Miss Saigon,” “Jersey Boys”) first encountered Joyce’s work in English class, but wasn’t aware of the author’s life off the page until he embodied the role 11 years ago.
“I didn’t have any inkling as to the kind of writer, or the kind of man, that Joyce was,” Bogart, 45, said.
As the actor delved into research for the role, however, he discovered that Joyce’s struggles with his Catholic upbringing – a point which “Himself and Nora” explores at length – had personal resonance. Like Joyce, Bogart was raised a devout Catholic, and briefly considered priesthood.
“At one point in elementary school, I thought I’d possibly become a priest,” Bogart said. “I also realized that was going to be impossible because of other things I wanted to experience in my life.” He could also relate to Joyce’s eventual discontent with the Catholic faith. “There were times [since then] when I’ve gone through a kind of shunning of the church, the same way Joyce did. So I really did connect with that side of the character.”
The show touts the relationship between Joyce and Barnacle as “the greatest love story never told,” and fittingly, Bogart couldn’t have higher praise for Whitney Bashor, the singer-actress who portrays the winsome, yet fiery, Nora.
“We’re having a great time making out up there,” he quipped. “She’s an incredible woman and an excellent scene partner, and we’re just found a great chemistry together. She’s easy to love.”
Though Bogart isn’t sure how well the intimacy of “Himself and Nora” would lend itself to a full-scale Broadway staging, he hopes the musical offers audiences a “full, unexpected journey” and showcases a new side of him as an actor.
“You don’t have to know anything about Joyce to enjoy this show,” he said.
Matt Bogart stars in “Himself and Nora,” now playing at New York's Minetta Lane Theatre through Sept. 4. Head here for details.