When Jonathan Brielle began researching the life of James Joyce, he realized that there was a great woman behind the celebrated novelist: Nora Barnacle, his wife and muse. The two met in 1904 and were together until his death in 1941. Their relationship, a union of opposites, inspired Brielle’s musical Himself and Nora. The story follows the ups and downs of their life together, their passionate love affair and Joyce’s literary evolution.
Jersey Boys’ Matt Bogart and The Bridges of Madison County star Whitney Bashor play the lovers in the new Off-Broadway show, directed by Michael Bush. The two open up about what they think made the real-life partnership such a success and how it has inspired their own views on love.
“He treated her as an equal which is what she wanted more than anything,” says Bashor. For a woman in 1904, this would have been invaluable. “She got to experience true equality in her love. He taught her that she could have that, that it wasn’t too big of an ask.”
“They were compatriots,” agrees Bogart.
“They’re both unicorns to each other,” he continues. “He found this really interesting woman who’s come along from the country and she found this really interesting Dubliner that challenges her and accepts her points of view.”
“I think they were the ultimate yin and yang,” says Bashor. “Where he was so cerebral, she was so emotional and brought him back down to Earth.”
“Her ability to show him a more physical side of himself through their sexuality allowed him to get out of his head and be in his body—which I think served him as an artist. His natural tendency was to go off tangentially into his thoughts and his ideas; she brought him back.”
“They really do it for each other; physically, sexually, intellectually and it never ends,” agrees Bogart. “Imagine that every time you encounter your other half, it just raises you. It raises the stakes every time. That’s one of the things they have…they can’t live without each other.”
“I believe that they fulfilled something in each other; they found freedom together,” says Bogart. “Freedom from social restrictions, from where they had grown up, from family restriction, from the church, and they found a freedom in their sexuality with each other where they didn’t have to worry about being judged.”
“A lot of people who have felt the freedom to leave a background of religion will connect with how they felt about making that choice,” he continues. “I’m Catholic as well, and I do have that voice in the back of my head. Even though I am not particularly practicing all the time, that doesn’t mean that I don’t bring that background with me.”
“They definitely had a real, visceral connection to each other,” says Bashor. “I think it’s separate to his intellectual side, but I also think it served it. Because they had this very passionate chemistry, it freed him to be able to write and explore in ways he thought he’d never be able to.”
Taught and Be Taught
“In my own relationship there are so many things that my boyfriend is better at than I am,” says Bashor. “It makes him such a good teacher. I feel like there’s something that makes a relationship last when we feel like we’re constantly learning from the person that we’re with.
“That’s something that James and Nora were able to give each other; they were constantly teaching each other about things that they were masters of. One always felt like the teacher and the student.”
Himself and Nora began previews May 14 and officially opens June 6 at the Minetta Lane Theatre. For more information and to purchase tickets visit himselfandnoramusical.com.