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The Year of the Bicycle

Upstream Theater, Kranzberg Arts Center

Saint Louis

Reviewed by Joan Leyden

Runs Jan 27 – Feb 12, 2017

An unexpected encounter – a small boy, Andile, mistakenly kicks his soccer ball into the garden of a small girl, Amelia. He is black; she is white, and the setting is South Africa in 1997 and 2007, in the shared mental landscape of these children.

In the familiar way of 8-yr-olds, they plunge into immediate, explorative play, testing their differences, delighting in their sameness. Loyalties grow and tempers flare as the children bond. Then fate, in the person of Amelia’s mother, separates them.

Some ten years go by. The teenagers have not been in contact. In the company of his gang, Andile robs Amelia’s house. He is caught and imprisoned. It is here that the author introduces a stunning piece of Magic Realism: the estranged friends suffer a concussion at the exact same time. They find one another again in each other’s mind, and in spite of all that has been lost, their love and their need to reach out for each other persists.

The play is charming, tender and tough, a beautiful celebration of childhood – its candor, curiosity and imagination. It is beautifully paced by Upstream’s Artistic Director, Philip Boehm, in an exuberant, full-hearted, physical production. His casting of Magan Wiles as the tart Amelia and Eric J. Conners as the genial Andile seemed perfect, as was their range of emotions and sensitivity to the material.

Special mention must also be made of the imaginative soundscape as created by David A. N. Jackson.

The production values were also impressive. The spare, evocative setting by designed Michael Heil was charming: cloud-spattered floor, a tall moveable table and a phantom bicycle suspended above the rectangular playing area. Laura Hanson’s costumes and Tony Anselmo’s lighting were subtle and effective.

Joanna Evans’ play, The Year of the Bicycle, is a poignant plea for a world in which imagination and curiosity are allowed to grow into respect and love for the Other. She takes us back to innocence and invites us to a more joyful participation in the world as we have come to accept it. A powerful piece of theatre.

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