There are moments in Red Bike when two actors on imaginary bikes speed down a hill, terrified they could be like the Olympic biker who careens off the road, with knees, legs and arms smashed.
But they don’t crash. They Rise.
In its exhilarating San Diego premiere at MOXIE Theatre, Red Bike, by Caridad Svich, two actors play one 11-year-old child, and the brilliant storytellers literally race through time and memories.
The highly choreographed play is about economic dislocation and distress from a child’s viewpoint. The bike is a vehicle that flies through stories like a magic carpet, and flawless dialogue changes gears quickly, because that’s how the racing brain of a child works.
Actors Nancy Ross and Timothy L. Cabal share the role, yet viewers may also consider them siblings or cousins with a shared life experience. They grip horizontal poles to evoke a bike’s handle bars. Even when riding imaginary bikes, their dialogue is flawless and enthralling. They become one person thinking out loud.
They share dreams of riding in the Tour de France and ask questions about their worried parents and vanishing towns. “My parents have seen too much of the world to believe in grace…”
They also draw wisdom from a bus driver, known as the Old Man. Cabal is masterful when imitating him with hands on an imaginary steering wheel.
Still, Red Bike is an uplifting narrative. Cabal and Ross inject plenty of humor and smash serious themes in a full-voiced rendition of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” to remind us that while children worry and fret, they also sing and dance with joy like nobody’s watching.
The playwright, Svich, is an Obie Award Winner and University of California San Diego grad. She created the non-linear Red Bike as an “open text,” which means director Lisa Berger, in her MOXIE debut, has a blank slate. She has conjured all stage directions, and decided the age, gender identity and ethnicity of the actors.
The playwright Svich even allows the director to decide how many performers. Here we watch two, but it could be one and up to four. Berger teams two energized actors and engaging music and effects (designed by Matt Lescault-Wood), such as soft piano, buzzing drones and night noises, and that old-people Muzak heard in elevators and dull restaurants.
Ross and Cabal, listed as (A) and (M) in the program, wear wrist guards and knee pads, and for good reason. They run up and down curves on both sides of the stage at break-neck speed. They make us believe they are pedaling. Alondra Velez’s scenic designs and Angelica Ynfante’s prop designs successfully transform the small stage into a dangerous hill, warehouse, and modest home.
From the opening song “We’re Going to Be Friends,” by The Red Stripes, we are transported to childhood. From a child’s point of view, we remember how adults yammer on and on, but forget that children hear it all. We are reminded of lonely children and how a simple shopping trip can cause trauma. Some of their fears are unwarranted, of course, but they also notice details and find the helpers. They may be inspired for life by simple acts of kindness.
Red Bike is the first part of “American Psalm,” a seven-play series by Svich and the first to be produced. All seven are set in small coastal towns. Red Bike continues through Feb. 16, 2020, at Moxie Theatre. http://www.moxietheatre.com/redbike/ Runtime is 90 minutes without intermission.