by: Myra Chanin
Jonathan Brielle, an energetic, ambitious creator of musicals presented himself, his past, present and future productions in a Broadway at Birdland show on Monday, April 25. The purpose of the show was to introduce his forthcoming off-Broadway musical based on the magical love story between James Joyce aka Himself – a pronoun that actually replaces the third person “he” in the Irish vernacular — and his mistress of 27 years before she became his wife, the long-suffering Nora Barnacle. Her most famous quote about him was: Why don’t you write books people can read? — The same query that I often thought when I was a student of modern English literature.
Himself and Nora had their first romantic liaison when she worked as a chambermaid at Finn’s Hotel in Dublin. The date, June 16, 2004, was immortalized by Himself as Bloomsday in Ulysses. Nora, called Molly Bloom in the book, was the “I” in the erotic soliloquy in the book’s last section –Penelope, moaning the final words we all remember, Yes! Yes! Yes! at the peak of her orgasm. God bless Joyce for refusing to spread the calumny that Jewish women are frigid.
What did Nora actually think of Himself? I don’t know whether my husband is a genius or not, but he certainly has a dirty mind. To fully appreciate that mind in completely understandable prose, check out his love letters to Nora at http://loveletters.tribe.net/thread/fce72385-b146-4bf2-9d2e-0dfa6ac7142d. As for her replies, they, alas, are gone, but I imagine they were considerably shorter as in “Jim. The children are hungry. Where is the money you promised to send?” The Jesuits may have influenced Joyce’s early disciplined prose in Dubliners or Portrait of an Artist but only Henry Miller could have mentored him in letter writing. At a time when Time Magazine reports watching too much impersonal porn on the internet has given the young men watching erectile dysfunction, reading Joyce’s letters will supply an absolute antidote, because very personal and specific lust and love lurk behind the sexual fantasy.
Brielle’s past productions include Las Vegas extravaganzas. Enter The Night (for which he wrote the book, music, lyrics) ran 10 years at the Stardust Hotel, and MADhattan (for which he wrote ditto in collaboration with 30 street performers) had a two year run at the Las Vegas New York, New York Hotel. He currently has three musicals in development; 40 Naked Women, A Monkey and Me which premiered at The Eugene O’Neil Conference starring Veanne Cox; Nightmare Alley, which premiered at the Geffen Playhouse and a third unnamed project he began at the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed. Songs from them were included in this performance. The audience was impressed enough to applaud loudly, particularly when Veanne Cox sang “Commerce and Art,” from 40 Monkeys and Rose Hemingway sang “Lucky Heart” and “Mystery” from Nightmare Alley. I found them melodic and lively, but I didn’t hear any “Some Enchanted Evenings.”
Himself and Nora were played by that hunk Matt Bogart (Nick Massi in Jersey Boys and an irresistible really Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio in NBC’s Smash) and the blonde and beautiful Whitney Bashor (of The Bridges of Madison County) who is equally irresistible in her own right. The songs written for Himself and Nora had an Irish lilt that were perfect for Matt Bogart, but the performance that knocked me out was Bashor’s down to earth delivery of “What Would I Be Without A Man – Lucky.” Here’s a snippet from that song. Remember Joyce may have been a genius but he was also a drunk, half-blind and a womanizer to boot.
KNOW WHAT I’D BE WITHOUT A MAN?
ONCE A MAN HITS YAR AGE
YA FALL APART, ALL APART!
EYES SO GONE,
TEETH IN A GLASS
YA CAN’T EVEN FIND
WHAT WOULD I BE WITHOUT A MAN?
AND HE WILL GO FIRST TO HIS GRAVE
WOMAN SEES, WOMAN KNOWS.
STUCK WITH A DRUNK
BILLS TO PAY
O YA’RE QUITE A ROSE!
FOR ALL THE YEARS AND SEEDS I’VE SOWN
FIRST A NURSEMAID THEN ALONE
WHAT WOULD I BE OUT ON MY OWN?
Performances begin May 14 at the Minetta Lane Theater at 18 Minetta Lane in the West Village.
Photos: Jason Woodruff