In one, the callow young American Robbie (Josh Adams), at loose ends in Dublin, meets the Irish Caithleen (Danielle Scott) on a tour of locales that figure into James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” That masterpiece, featuring a character named Leopold Bloom, is set in Dublin on June 16, 1904, a day that Joyce enthusiasts now honor with annual Bloomsday celebrations. Robbie has no interest in “Ulysses,” but much in the fiery, inwardly anxious Caithleen, and the relationship between 20-year-olds intensifies as they hang out.
Decades later, Robert (Steven Carpenter) and Cait (Megan Anderson), as they’re now known, still vividly remember that day. Dietz has the older couple interact with their younger selves in scenes tinged with humor, wistfulness and tension.
Campbell’s cast gives warmth to this high-concept device. The poised Carpenter suggests Robert’s emotional scars without overemphasizing them, and Anderson reveals Cait’s volatility, vulnerability and charm. Adams gives wonderful naturalness to the now-eager, now-ambivalent Robbie — as when the young American crams a sandwich (Gorgonzola with mustard, Leopold Bloom’s lunch) into his mouth so that he can please Caithleen by reading aloud from “Ulysses.”
Designers Carl Gudenius and Jingwei Dai have centered their set, framed by Dublin snapshots, on a supersize “Ulysses” book cover. The choice makes sense: In addition to certain shared themes, both play and novel mythologize a single day — “a day that didn’t fade,” as Cait says of her first encounter with Robbie/Robert.
In “Bloomsday,” you always have an irksome sense of the author manipulating that no-fade effect. And although the play offers romance and poignancy, it doesn’t give a particularly fresh cast to its observations — that age lends perspective, that opportunity may be fleeting and that you can’t recapture the past, no matter how big a box you have to put it in.
Bloomsday, by Steven Dietz. Directed by Kasi Campbell; costumes, Ben Argenta Kress; sound, David Bryan Jackson; lighting, Marianne Meadows. About 100 minutes. $50-$60. Through Feb. 16 at the Undercroft Theatre at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, 900 Massachusetts Ave. NW. stageguild.org.