NY Theater Review by JK Clarke
Poor Becky, she’s on the losing end of a societal double standard. Just a few months pregnant and happily living with her husband in a small English town on summer break from her teaching position, her libido has sprung to life. Maybe it’s hormones, maybe it’s just who she is. But her husband, John (Jason Butler Harner), whom she does not seem to know that well (she moved in with him within three weeks of meeting him, after all) does not have a sex drive to match. Or perhaps, as he absurdly tries to explain, he’s afraid of harming the baby. (To which Becky hilariously retorts, “It’s in my womb, not my vagina!”) Instead of working with Becky to satisfy her carnal needs, he rebuffs her, making her feel unwanted and undesirable. Only then does she acquire, and become, the play’s namesake: The Village Bike (now playing at MCC Theater’s Lucille Lortel Theatre).
While “the village bike” is a euphemism for a town’s promiscuous lady (see if you can make the connection), in this case Becky (Greta Gerwig) also acquires, within the village, a bicycle, for the purpose of exercising and staying healthy during her pregnancy. Instead, the purchase leads her to a transformative encounter with Oliver (Scott Shepherd), with whom she is far more sexually compatible than her husband. Problem is, Oliver is only willing to “play” while his wife is away, and when she returns, Becky feels rejected and lost all over again.
Writer Penelope Skinner has artfully created a play that walks a line between making a judgment call about Becky’s behavior, hypocritical attitudes toward sexuality and the psychology of obsession. Although early scenes — surrounding John and Becky’s marital dysfunction — are overly long and somewhat tedious (scene edits would have helped), the dialog is sharp, original and often funny or biting. That the cast is terrific doesn’t hurt the script one bit. Gerwig, making her off-Broadway debut, and who is best known for a handful of independent films (including the delightful Frances Ha, which she co-wrote and stars in), is charming, adorable and easy to empathize with as Becky. We not only feel, but understand, her frustration; Gerwig communicates with subtle glances and a self-possessed yet self-conscious determination. And Scott Shepherd is the overly confident, prideful and self-assured lothario with complete command over his emotions and desires. Their sexual interactions are appropriately awkward and often discomfiting, with attempts at fetish and role play bordering on cringe-worthy. Which is exactly as they often are in real life.
Director Sam Gold has managed an entertaining production, thanks mostly to fine acting, and in spite of a few technical shortcomings. Certain scene transitions, accented with music cues, are overly loud, jarring and abrupt. That can be a style that works with certain plays, but here the scene transitions, as written, are meant to be smooth, and the jarring music and light cues take the audience momentarily away from the mood of the play.
What makes The Village Bike so heartbreaking is that the circumstances are all too plausible and all too real. In most communities, this is still the sort of relationship disconnect that remains unspoken and scarcely acknowledged. Gerwig and Shepherd deliver Skinner’s message with heartbreaking, visceral tenderness. They make dealing with this difficult subject matter well worth the ride. Cara Seymour plays Jenny, a friend and sometime confidant, and Lucy Owen takes on the role of Alice, Oliver’s wife. Max Baker is Mike, the plumber!
The Village Bike. Through July 13 at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street between Bedford and Hudson). www.mcctheater.org
Photos: Matthew Murphy