Show: Ghost Bike
Company: Buzz22 Chicago
Venue: Greenhouse Theater Center
Die Roll: 16
It is almost that time of year: the time of year when Chicago’s traffic signals and stop signs are blatantly ignored by a disturbingly high number of people who daringly travel on spare frames and two wheels. ‘Tis the season when we start to hear about cyclists getting “doored,” and car drivers curse the impatience of riders who thrust into 6-way intersections against the lights.
Buzz22 Chicago’s current offering at the Greenhouse Theater Center kicks off at the moment we all fear and dread when we watch someone dart into cross-traffic on a bike. Eddie (portrayed by Ricky Staffieri) is hit by a Toyota Corolla as he plows through an intersection in anger. The accident kills him.
With a play that starts with a tragic death, there’s really only one way for it to go: down… as in to the underworld. Playwright Laura Jacqmin reportedly conceived the play as an Orpheus/Eurydice story on bikes (according to an interview within the program). And so, we proceed to an updated version of Hades’ realm of antiquity.
The genders are swapped from the original myth in this play. Our Orpheus is an 18-year-old girl named Ora (played by Aurora Adachi-Winter), who loses her best friend on her birthday. She can’t deal with the fact that her friend was ripped from this world at a tragically young age, and so upon meeting a charmingly strange man (Scot West) in the waiting room of her psychiatrist (Ben Hertel), she becomes convinced that she can descend into the depths and retrieve Eddie, returning him to his pre-collision life.
Along the journey she makes the requisite stops predicated by the Greek myth, and she eventually leads Eddie back toward the surface, only to look back at him and send him back down from whence he came.
So here’s the thing: I liked this production. I thought the cast did a great job with it. John Wilson’s set creatively uses plastic sheeting, segments of chain link fence, and a couple of ramps to convey a remarkable number of places. And yet, it isn’t a terribly good play.
At the core of the problem is a script that is highly inconsistent. Some of the vignettes are very well written and held up by character work that makes them shine. Scot West fills his scenes with life as the ruler of the underworld and a Satyr who rides a three-framed bike. Ben Hertel’s portrayal of an elderly man with a walker is both strong and charming. Thea Lux and Lea Pascal are wonderful as Dark Hel and Light Hel. Cerberus is interpreted very creatively and effectively as a BMX biker and two roller derby girls, and Alex Trey, Margaret Cook, and Quincey Krull give those characters a vital essence.
Sadly, that’s about the extent of the strong scenes in the show. One other that stands out is the use of actors in blue plastic bags to represent a river. The physicality of the staging made that scene a success. The words didn’t do it there.
Because of the play’s episodic structure, the weaker scenes stand out against their stronger counterparts. It is very hard for me to tell if Adachi-Winter did a good job in her role, because the script doesn’t give her much to work with. When looking at a script one has to know what’s at stake. Why does any of this matter? And, when it comes down to it, too many of the scenes are missing any tangible stake. It seems that the playwright was determined to fit her work to the extant myth and sometimes that meant sacrificing good writing in order to jump the storyline to its next plot point.
When the writing is sharp, this play is really good, but because most of it is rough and clunky, it feels like a piece that needs another rewrite. That being said, I did enjoy the piece, and think it has great potential. I’m hoping that it isn’t yet at its final destination.
TEN WORD SUMMARY: Bicycle trip through underworld winds toward forced sense of closure.
RATING: d10 – “Worth Going To”