Be kind, I say to myself. Be diplomatic. After all, this is Allison Heishman’s debut as Simpatico Theatre’s new artistic director, and I wish her well. And Caridad Svich’s Red Bike is a brand-new play, part of the National New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere Program, which means that several theater companies have chosen the script as a work they will produce within the year.
Why did they choose it, I wonder (note that I’m still talking to myself)? And the answer seems to be that childlike voices will serve as a tonic to adult despair and anxiety. The main — and only — character is 11 years old and is embodied by three adults, talking to a roomful of adults, telling us all about adult life, about greed and the ruination of the landscape of our world. (This may be news to an 11-year-old, but it sounds drearily familiar, if not downright, boring to me.)
The character tells us about his/her obsession with his/her red bike, and the wild freedom of riding fast, exploring the world beyond home. There is the childish wish to be a superhero, or to go on a vision quest and conquer a monster, and to reach the pinnacle of a hill “clinging to the handlebars of life” and saying to the town below, “Look at me!”
Red Bike continues two trends I lament in recent plays. The first is the substitution of narration for dialogue, so that the real drama of people talking to one another in different voices with different points of view is lost; that kind of theater requires us to follow the characters’ conversation and come to our own conclusions, rather than having those conclusions announced (repeatedly) to us. It also requires a high level of wordsmithing, so that we relish the language as well as the delivery. None of that here in the pretentious, inauthentic speech of an ungrammatical kid.
The show’s director, Sam Tower, has invented a style of rhythmic precision narration and physical performance for three actors — Wilfredo Amil (whose diction could do with a little more precision), Torez Mosley, and Emily R. Johnson, all of whom are very nimble and agile and earnest.
The second trend I notice is toward a kind of cavalier cynicism about contemporary life, the assumption that everyone is ruthless and miserable (who, us? the theatergoers?), that all the things that happen to old people are “pure sad,” and that poetic aphorisms will make us all feel better. The result is tedious and makes this short play feel very long and repetitious.
I think I have failed to take my advice myself, having been neither kind nor diplomatic. I tried.
Through June 24, Simpatico Theater at The Caplan Studio Theatre, University of the Arts, Terra Hall 16th Floor, 211 S. Broad Street. Tickets: Pay what you decide after the performance. Information: 267-437-7529, simpaticotheatre.org.