“Take Life By the Handlebars”
By: Sandi Durell
If you’re Penny (Jessica DiGiovanni), a 20-something year old “f**k up” from the millennial era, feeling the pangs of finding oneself, why not take to the road. Get on a bike (stationary in this case), join a cross country biking expedition for a cause, and take off. Leave your troubles behind, leave your dorky boyfriend Todd (Vandit Bhatt) and cycle your way to good emotional and mental health. Well . . . not exactly!
This dark comedy at St. Clement’s (Ma-Yi Theater & Ensemble Studio Theatre coproduction) written by Mike Lew and sprightly directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, isn’t a new theme, just a creatively funny way to find meaning in life. There’s gotta be something better than Boston where nothing is happening!
Penny’s companions are Tim Billy (Landon G. Woodson), a Texan, the group leader Ryan (Tom White, and a pair of married lesbians, Annabel (Marilyn Torres) and Rorie (Melanie Nicholls-King) out to prove a point about political and social injustice as they set out to be married in every state they can as they bike across America. And there’s the Man with the Van (David Shih), who plays multiple roles and drops pearls of wisdom, if asked.
Penny, on the other hand, is happy to jump into the sack with any one of the guys hoping to find love in all the wrong places. She comes across as tough and aggressive.
Her trip mates are pushing around single bike wheels, wearing helmets and biking outfits, and we’re always updated on where they are as large photographs of specific cities and terrain float in and out above them. (Andrew Boyce, set design; Melissa Schachtmeyer, Amy Pedigo-Otto, costumes)
There’s a cartoonish feeling to the production and some hysterically funny scenes such as when they’re traveling over the Williamsburg Bridge to NYC and meet two Brooklyn hi-brow cyclers supposedly out for a Sunday spin on their Citi Bikes (played by Shih and Torres) only to have their clothes and money stolen by them.
Penny is full of trash talk throughout (a product of the times), in a very punchy and vibrant performance. Todd, who is sweet and in love with Penny, keeps calling her but she won’t pick up.
As the cyclists continue, making their way cross country and thru Allentown, Pa., another funny moment occurs when Penny tries to overnite with Todd’s mother (played by Torres in a beat up bathrobe with a cigarette dangling from her mouth) to sleep in a real bed, but is turned away as Mom tells Penny she can’t understand why Todd didn’t want to stay and “be a coal miner like his Dad.”
It almost appears as if the play was written with one character in mind – Penny, as the others are subjugated to her rants and ravings. And DiGiovanni does give a noteworthy performance.
Lew has a way with words as he keeps up a constant level of repartee. There aren’t always happy endings and sometimes “there’s no place like home.”
Bike America at The Theater at St. Clements, 423 W. 46 St. NYC. 212 246-7277 or OvationTix 866-811-4111 thru Oct. 20th.