Murky Landscape Of The Mind As “The Year Of The Bicycle” Premieres At Upstream

bike-string

Magan Wiles as Amelia and Eric J. Conners as Andile in the Upstream Theater production of “The Year Of The Bicycle.” Photo:ProPhotoSTL.com

Upstream Theater is normally one of the most rich and challenging companies in town with translations from playwrights from other countries (usually translated by Artistic Director Philip Boehm) or classic American pieces. With “The Year Of The Bicycle” by playwright and actor Joanna Ruth Evans, the short one-act is just a bit too confusing at times as it doesn’t always jump logically from past to present. Described as a shared mental landscape of the two characters, it often gets a bit too murky as they journey through twenty years of real and perhaps imagined life.

At one point they talk about imagining themselves in the sky looking down at themselves and then in the world looking up at themselves in the sky. Perhaps an indication that they have departed this earth together or is it merely this murky landscape that they somehow share over the years? Maybe it’s an unanswered question in the script for us to ponder.

bike-wheel

Magan Wiles and Eric J. Conners in “The Year Of The Bicycle” at Upstream Theater. Photo: ProPhotoSTL.com

Magan Wiles is a white South African girl named Amelia who we first meet at age 8. Eric J. Conners is Andile, a black youngster from the neighborhood who is Amelia’s best (and probably his only) friend. Sharing soccer, bicycles and even a made up baby brother made out of scraps of cloth, their imagination takes the place of any other real playthings. Emulating Amelia Earhart, she even takes Andile on a “plane ride” using the wheel of a bicycle. Andile, in the meantime, continually uses a ball of red yarn to mark out spaces on the oblong set that features eight thin poles to indicate their world.

Both actors keep us enthralled- if confused at times- particularly during the unabashed thrill of eight year olds at play. Tragedy and change mark their grown up selves but we’re never quite sure if it all takes place twenty years in the future or various times throughout that twenty years. A lot of the dialogue is stilted and dream-like which just adds to the perplexing story.

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Magan Wiles and Eric J. Conners during a special moment in the Upstream Theater production of “The Year Of The Bicycle.” Photo: ProPhotoSTL.com

Philip Boehm directs with an eye for broad moves and abandon during the sequences featuring them as children but a more reserved and, at times, slow motion movement during their later years. Although this help delineate between their time together, the whole mental landscape situation doesn’t come off as obvious enough. David A. N. Jackson serves as the “soundscape,” a random but effective set of mostly percussive instruments. As in most Upstream productions, this becomes an outstanding “extra player” in the cast that adds a lot to the proceedings.

Michael Heil’s set design is intriguing as the audience sits on both sides of the long rectangles and the random objects denoting the bicycle and a rolling table that serves quite a few purposes are fine in the scheme of things. Tony Anselmo’s lights are superb and the costumes of Laura Hanson fit the two characters well as they travel through time.

bike-plane

Magan Wiles “flies” the plane and Eric J. Conners is along for the ride in “The Year Of The Bicycle” at Upstream Theater. Photo: ProPhotoSTL.com

With a running time of just over an hour, it’s just about enough time to try to wrap your mind around just what is going on. The idea is fascinating but I think the script needs a bit of work to clear up some of the conceptual thoughts and bring things into focus. “The Year Of The Bicycle” plays at Upstream Theater through February 12th. Contact them at http://www.upstreamtheater.org for tickets or more information.

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