An unnamed 11-year-old who’s the single character in the new play “Red Bike” recounts the time when she, or he, sees a street person and desperately wants to give the guy a dollar. The child’s parent will hear nothing of it for all the adult reasons — the street person will use the dollar for drugs, that sort of response. The kid is crestfallen, angry. Why not help the poor man?
That vignette, perhaps 70 seconds in a play of 70 minutes, struck me because it felt so authentic from a child’s point of view. It is, I think, the only authentic piece of “Red Bike,” a repetitive, disjointed show that gives an 11-year-old the voice of a playwright without a thought about the way a kid that age would speak.
“Winding curves and rivulets,” “my teeth are drowning in tears,” a man “revels in his secrets,” a house “caresses my steel torso” says this child who talks about the “derivatives” and “securities” a rich man uses to tear down trees and build condos, turning his town into something no one wants. There’s an author’s message here – I’m not sure what, except maybe that we’re too dazzled by money and by the “stuff” the kid’s dad packs and mails from a massive warehouse that presumably fulfills Internet orders.
Caridad Svich’s play centers on a red bike the kid wants badly and gets, then rides through town on a trip that may dangerously burn out the brakes, or become something like psychedelic or morph into some other universe where the rich man who builds condos is a monster who stabs the child with a stolen fork. There’s some sort of metaphor in there about a captain of real estate stealing a fork from a restaurant and using it against an innocent child – if you can figure it out, enjoy yourself. And that red bike? It’s a metaphor for all of our visions, hopes and dreams, and also for a red bike.
So let’s give the program notes from this Simpatico Theatre production equal time: “One day you take a ride through the outer edges of your town and something goes awry. Let’s call it an accident. Let’s say it causes you to see the world anew. Or maybe it just causes you to see the world for what it truly is.”
Yet the playwright gives us no way to enter into the story and be with this child – “Red Bike” is basically a 70-minute monologue of ideas too quickly stated to parse, then repeated in wanna-be poetry again and again. The child is played at Simpatico by three actors – Torez Mosley, Emily R. Johnson and Wilfredo Amill — who alternate lines or sometimes say them in unison, all the while dancing or running around the stage under Sam Tower’s direction. The actors’ movements rarely enhance the storytelling; they’re mostly meaningless, like much of the enterprise.
Svich wrote the script for either three actors or one, and there’s a chance that if one actor played the character, the performance might be the sort of tour-de-force that overwhelms the fissures in the script. As it is, the three actors do what they can with the artificial monologue.
“Red Bike” is what’s called a “rolling world premiere” from the National New Play Network, which nurtures work and whose member theaters commit to producing a play one after another. Simpatico’s is the second of four planned “Red Bike” productions. It’s also the first under the aegis of its new artistic director, Allison Heishman, a talented theater artist who’s directed in many local venues that include Azuka, the Walnut Street Theatre and the National Constitution Center. I look forward to Simpatico’s future productions without looking backward to this one.
“Red Bike,” produced by Simpatico Theatre, runs through June 24 at the University of the Arts’ Caplan Studio Theatre, at 211 S. Broad Street, between Walnut and Locust Streets. More information at simpaticotheatre.org.