BWW Review: Upstream Theater's Extraordinarily Imaginative Production of THE YEAR OF THE BICYCLE
I always look forward to every show by Upstream Theater, because I know I will transported somewhere I've never been before. It may be another country, or it may be a state of mind. Whatever the case, I know it will be a magical place that will take me far beyond any expectations I may have. With playwright Joanna Evans' THE YEAR OF THE BICYCLE, we're taken to places that fall into both categories. Acted with passion and energy, and brimming with an extraordinary sense of visual style, this production explores relations in South Africa between whites and blacks, while also giving us a glimpse of the afterlife. It's only about an hour or so long, but it leaves a lasting impression. This is what Upstream Theater consistently does; provide must-see productions that challenge and invigorate.
Amelia and Andile are two young children in South Africa, where the black and white communities are kept separate from one another by a valley. When Andile's soccer ball accidentally falls into Amelia's yard a friendship between the two youngsters is struck. They meet fairly regularly one Summer, sharing a bicycle, and engaging in the kind of games that kids play. Eventually, Amelia's mother puts an end to their fun, but the bond they developed lingers, even though it's 10 years before they encounter one another again, under less than ideal circumstances. However, all of this is told as flashbacks, because neither of these people exist anymore. In a kind of limbo, they connect again, both sharing memories of a time when they were both innocent and unblemished by the events that later transpired.
I've always been a fan of Magan Wiles work, but I think she really outdoes herself here. Her portrayal of a sassy eight year old girl named Amelia is spot on. Her body language and attitude strike me as an absolutely perfect embodiment of the character. Amelia is lonely little girl obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Andile comes along at just the right time to lift her out of the funk that her life at home has placed her in. Eric J. Conners is equally sharp as Andile, nicely projecting that sense of wonderment and innocence that children possess. Connors makes Andile a character that we look forward to seeing, just as Amelia does, and he and Wiles share a chemistry that makes this piece really blossom.
Philip Boehm is a very imaginative director, and his work here is without peer. He and scenic designer Michael Heil have created a space for the actors to work that is bold and unusual, and also brilliant. Laura Hanson's costumes are nicely conceived down to the band-aid that Amelia wears. Tony Anselmo's lighting design keeps the action between the two characters clearly In Focus, while maintaining a keen sense of the atmosphere required, and the soundscape performed live by David A.N. Jackson is superb and evocative, adding immeasurably to the overall experience.
Upstream Theater's production of THE YEAR OF THE BICYCLE is marvelously executed. I urge you to see this unique work, which continues through February 12, 2017.
Photo credit: PROPhotoSTL