Review: ‘The Village Bike’ at Shotgun Players (****)

by Barry David Horwitz

Everyone gets to ride. . . 

This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

A friend had to tell me what “The Village Bike” means in British urban slang–it’s the person in town whom everyone gets to ride! It means the woman everyone takes a turn on. British playwright Penelope Skinner’s play about a contemporary woman’s erotic life created a sensation in London in 2011. She received an award for Most Promising Playwright. Ms. Skinner has said, “I feel a responsibility to write parts for women in which women say something…”

A London couple, Becky (Elissa Stebbins) and John (Nick Medina), have taken refuge in an old country house. Nina Bell’s captivating and realistic set is complete with functioning kitchen, upstairs bedroom, and green outdoors. The house’s pipes rattle, roll, leak, and rumble — strategically — throughout the play. The “humid” pipes perform like another character in her play, with ominous noises and warnings. Whose pipes and innards produce those noises?

Becky, a school teacher, is pregnant but less than thrilled with the idea. Her husband, John, is excited by the pregnancy, but fears that sex may harm the unborn. Becky, for her part, longs for a bicycle to take out on country roads, for the freedom to feel and discover on her own. She longs for sex, for passion, but John refuses to submit. The male/female stereotypes are up for grabs! And those pipes are crying out.

Seems like a convenient excuse for him, too, as he busies himself with baby things. Becky, a mommy in denial, finds his hidden box of porn, labelled “Wedding Crockery,” to find some relief. Well, that’s just her first step.

She moves pretty quickly to more fleshly and flamboyant sexual innuendoes and encounters with the bumbling plumber, Mike (David Sinaiko), as they debate the state of her sweaty pipes. Then she swiftly discovers the local Lothario, Oliver (a comically sensual Kevin Clarke), who has a bike for sale. Clarke embodies all that her porn promises and more. Pretty soon they are schoolgirl and schoolmaster on his living room couch and its onward and downward from there…

From L to R: Megan Trout as Emma, Kevin Clarke as Oliver, Elissa Stebbins as Becky, Nick Medina as John, El Beh as Jenny, and David Sinaiko as Mike in “The Village Bike” at Shotgun Players. Photo Credit: Shotgun Players.

Kevin Clarke ups the comic conflict and the ante, when he proves to be an equally randy player and fantasist for Becky. Their couplings and dress-up may be porn-centric, but they sure do heat up her erotic life in that tiny village.

The wonderfully annoying neighbor Jenny (a fiercely repressed El Beh) tries to be helpful to Becky. But she is herself going to explode, wonderfully.

Oliver’s wife Alice (a stylishly angry Megan Trout) also ups the ante, when she uncovers Becky’s scandalous sexting. Each character inhabits a separate universe. One could hope for some truer contact between them, but maybe that’s Skinner’s point. No one will pay attention to Becky’s erotic life — not her husband, not her local lovers. What is a woman to do? How far can she get by just riding that bike around that tiny village, after all?

“The Village Bike” plays at the Ashby Stage through June 26, 2016 (and will return in repertory later in the season). For further information click here

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Rating: ****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
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“The Village Bike” by Penelope Skinner, produced by Shotgun Players. Directed by Patrick Dooley. Set Design: Nina Ball. Stage Manager: Christina Bauer. Sound Design: Hannah Birch Carl. Costume Design: Valera Coble. Props Design: Noah Kramer. Assistant Director: Jessica Lauren. Lighting Design: Ray Oppenheimer.

Cast:

Jenny: El Beh. Oliver: Kevin Clarke. John: Nick Medina. Mike: David Sinaiko. Becky: Elissa Stebbins. Alice: Megan Trout.

 

 

 

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