Jessica DiGiovanni & David Shih in BIKE AMERICA. Photo by Web Begole.
BOTTOM LINE: A send-up of our great nation, as seen through the eyes of a snarky, self-obsessed Millennial.
The strife of the Millennial Generation isn't the most original of topics these days. And it can be a tough sell when it's on the whiny side of entitlement (you know, the "me" generation talk). Mike Lew's Bike America follows an angsty 27-year old as she ventures on a cross-country bike ride with the singular goal of finding where she belongs. Although her plight isn't always sympathetic or even necessarily interesting, the sassy writing and innovative staging make for a very fun time at the theatre.
Penny (Jessica DiGiovanni) leaves her clingy boyfriend and grad school life behind in Boston for a three-month bike trip adventure. Though the actual goal of the trip is to raise money for cancer, Penny's agenda involves finding herself and where she belongs. Afraid of committment and feeling herself get older, Penny needs to shake up her life in order to move forward. As she bikes from city to city, she tries to get a feel for the unique culture there. And on the way she befriends her co-riders -- a quicky and well-cast ensemble including Melanie Nicholls-King, David Shih, Marilyn Torres, Tom White, and Landon G. Woodson -- who each offer her generous words of wisdom.
DiGiovanni is brilliantly funny as Penny, leading this quirky comedy with unrelenting conviction. Lew's script is full of laughs, and the changing scenery -- from Brooklyn to Pittsburgh to Kentucky and westward -- leaves ample opportunity for local barbs. The New York bits land strongest (hipsters on CitiBikes are always good fodder), but the American tapestry lends relatable humor wherever the bikers pass through.
Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel (Trevor, Hand to God) does genius work creating this colorful world of big personalities. Many of the scenes take place on the open road with the characters on bikes; von Stuelpnagel finds a brilliant solution to keep the action fluid and consistently interesting. His reputation for directing seemingly impossible projects is proven once again with Bike America. And his creativity enables a super savvy production. His work is aided by some wonderful designers, particularly Jill BC Du Boff whose sound design creates an energy that is as much a part of the journey as the changing landscape.
At the end of the day, it's unclear if Penny has actually had any revelations. Her self-exploration, entitlement, and generally bitchy attitude -- especially to Todd (Vandit Bhatt), her dopey, doting boyfriend back home -- make her rather unlikeable. And later in the play when she has to say out loud that Millennials deserve their chance to find themselves, it all feels a little overstated. Bike America is essentially a cautionary tale, reminding us that you don't need a life changing adventure to find what's been inside of you all along.
(Bike America plays at the Theatre at St. Clement's, 423 West 46th Street, through October 20, 2013. Performances are Tuesdays at 7PM; Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8PM; and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $35 -- $15 for students and $25 for those under 25 -- and are available at ovationtix.com. For more show information visit ma-yitheatre.org.)