I want to ride my …
The Village Bike wildly careens down a twisted path of love and lust
During spring, as Alfred Tennyson asserted back in 1835, a young man’s fancy may indeed “lightly turn toward thoughts of love.” But, just as Tennyson’s narrator in the poem “Locksley Hall” discovered so long ago, thoughts and acts of love often turn weighty and dour with considerations of sex, lust, reproduction and emotional betrayal. Hence, British playwright Penelope Skinner sets The Village Bike—a darkly comic exploration of the complications of modern love—in the same pastoral Britain that held Tennyson’s poem, but with the additions of cellphones, pornographic DVDs and the “modern” perspective of sexual liberation.
We first meet newly pregnant English teacher Becky (Blake Nicole Ellis) and her advertising executive husband, John (Kyle Horst), preparing to bed down in their country cottage. Their conversation is a wittily entangled mass of double entendres as Becky tries to entice John with invitations to lovemaking while he obstinately clings to discussing his concerns about their house’s faulty, and very noisy, plumbing. Even changing into a négligée and digging out the porn stash from under the bed fails to arouse John’s libido. The reversal of sexual stereotypes to horny woman vs. sexually reluctant man is played off convincingly and humorously as Becky settles in to enjoy herself, or at least relieve her frustrations, watching porn while John buries his head in pillows.
The titular MacGuffin of the play is a used bicycle that Becky wants to buy from neighbor Oliver (Evan Allen), ostensibly for exercise and to enjoy the beauty of their pastoral home but also to help burn off some of her increasingly frustrated sexual energy.
Interrupting their discussion of the bike’s potential virtues or detriments the next morning, Becky’s neighbor Jenny (Delisa Freistadt) brings treats and effusive admiration of her husband, John, into the mix. Jenny is frustrated with her housewife’s life of caring for her children and home despite the fact that she is a doctorate in astronomical physics. Freistadt, using humorous but subtly affected enunciation and facial expressions, brings her character to delightfully realistic, comic life.
Keeping with the theme of life imitating stereotypical porn scenarios, the humble, widowed village plumber, Mike (Steven Caples), arrives to assess how to best deal with the cottage’s “sweaty pipes,” thereby triggering Becky’s fantasy of acting out her lustful thoughts. Then, with immaculate timing, bike-seller Oliver arrives bedecked in a Shakespearean outfit for a village theater production, and his smarmy, bare-chested charm, dramatic manner of speaking, and overt admiration of Becky’s attractiveness add to her confused but irrefutable feelings of lust.
It wouldn’t be fair to delineate all of the ways in which that lust manifests and expresses itself as the characters interact and intervene on each other’s intentions and aspirations, but it is fair to say that Skinner’s tale weaves their differences into a post-modern amoral comedy of manners that may leave one feeling a bit doubtful about casting judgments or even feeling consistently sympathetic regarding their assorted entanglements.
It’s a tribute to the playwright—and especially the cast and director Ashlyn Barnett’s stagecraft—that despite some overly convenient plot mechanisms, one can accept and, perhaps queasily, enjoy the development of the story for the intrigue of seeing how the fantasy works itself out—reflecting the complications of actual love and love affairs. Or, as Tennyson put it way back when, “Make me feel the wild pulsation that I felt before the strife,/When I heard my days before me, and the tumult of my life.”