I managed to catch the play The Village Bike at the Lucille Lortel Theater before its final performance today (July 13th). I didn’t know until after I saw the play that the term “village bike” is slang for a promiscuous woman, as in “that bike has been ridden by everyone in the village.” So I had no idea where things were headed when the play started out with a young attractive English couple who had just moved into a house in the country. The house is a bit of a wreck–there is some construction going on in the bedroom and the pipes are leaking and making very loud noises. We learn that the young woman, Becky, is pregnant. Her husband, John (played by Jason Butler Harner), no longer wants to have sex. He views Becky as a baby machine and is afraid sex may harm the baby. John ignores Becky when she puts on a new negligee. He refuses her advances and keeps on reading his book about pregnancy. He reads aloud that pregnancy can lower the libido, but it is clear that he is talking about himself and not Becky.
Becky is played by Greta Gerwig and she is great in the role. At first, she seems like the sensible one of the couple. When John reads about how she will be affected by hormonal changes, she seems steady and reasonable. But as things spiral out of control for Becky, one can’t help but think back on those hormones. Becky is not happy about John’s sexual abstinence. She wants some sexual satisfaction, and since her husband won’t co-operate, she has to take matters into her own hands. As Becky starts to obsess about sex, everything starts to have double meanings.
The play is a comedy, but there is an underlying darkness, both in the characters and the town itself. Becky starts having a sexual relationship with Oliver, a guy who sold her a bicycle–part of her new pregnancy exercise regime. Oliver is played by Scott Shepherd. A couple of years ago, he recited from memory the entire book, The Great Gatsby, in the wonderful 6-hour play, Gatz. He has a kind of nerdy, nice guy look to him. But as Oliver, he is charismatic and sexy, verging on the dangerous. He makes it clear that they can fool around only until his wife gets back from a trip. Becky seems like she is on the same page. They start to act out their fantasies together. We get glimpses of anger and violence from Oliver, and it is hard to know what is real and what is role play.
We get hints of darkness everywhere. The plumber’s wife died of cancer and he is sad and lonely. The neighbor complains to Becky about her husband, her children and her nanny.
To make things more complicated, more than one character mentions the bodies of murdered prostitutes that have been found in the woods and lake. I wondered which of the characters in the play would turn out to be a killer. But this is not a murder mystery–these details were just something to linger under the surface of the play–a reminder that nice little villages with nice little cottages are not as cheery and happy as one might think.
I enjoyed the play quite a bit, especially the way personalities twisted and turned and tensions built. It was dark, funny and surprising.
The Village Bike, written by 36-year-old British playwright, Penelope Skinner, was a MCC Theater production. It was directed by 36-year-old Sam Gold, who, in the last year or so directed The Realistic Joneses, Fun Home and The Flick.
By Penelope Skinner; directed by Sam Gold; sets by Laura Jellinek; costumes by Clint Ramos; lighting by Mark Barton; sound by Daniel Kluger; projections by Darrel Maloney; production stage manager, Donald Fried; dialect coach, Kate Wilson; production manager, B. D. White; general manager, Pamela Adams. Presented by MCC Theater, Robert LuPone, Bernard Telsey and William Cantler, artistic directors; Blake West, executive director. By special arrangement with the Lucille Lortel Theater Foundation, George Forbes, executive director. At the Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher Street, West Village; 212-352-3101, mcctheater.org. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes.
WITH: Greta Gerwig (Becky), Jason Butler Harner (John), Cara Seymour (Jenny), Max Baker (Mike), Scott Shepherd (Oliver) and Lucy Owen (Alice).
Here is an interview with Greta Gerwig
Check out this time lapse video of the big set change at intermission