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A CurtainUp LA Review
Nilo Cruz's A Bicycle Country has gone through many incarnations since the early 1990s when he conceived and set it in Italy. What emerges on the tiny exquisite stage of the Marilyn Monroe Theatre at the Lee Strasberg Creative Center is a journey as metaphor. The Cuban playwright begins his play in a shabby dwelling in Havana where two men and a woman exchange whip-fast dialogue stinging with vitality, stitched with the Latin love of music and dance. It ends on an ocean-borne raft where the refugees' escape becomes tinged by the magical realism of Latin writers.
A Bicycle Country
Julio (Armando Di Lorenzo) is recovering from a stroke, aided by his caregiver Ines (Kadina deElejalde) and friend Pepe (David Barrera). Ines initially emerges as the strongest character, browbeating Julio into exercising, motivating him into action by inviting Pepe to the zoo, and eventually falling in love with him. But Ines is driven by another passion, a lust for freedom. When Julio returns her love, his gift to her is a raft, on which the three of them will embark for the Land Where Dreams Come True.
Act II takes place on the raft, against a stunning seascape. The five-day ordeal runs the gamut from fatigue, sexuality, conflict and passion to illusion. The reality becomes more and more magical. In other hands the ending could be tragic or prosaic but Cruz has given it added dimensions and surprises. It's a kind of blossoming reinforced by the final image projected on the seascape.
Act II is, perhaps by its very nature, the more absorbing and dramatic. Act I feels like it still needs more heft. Although director Richard Hochberg has caught the pace and blocking perfectly, the characters show very little range. The progress of Julio's recovery, his reluctance to leave Ines and go back to work, the emerging triangle, Ines's monologues about the dreary and oppressive conditions she sees in the street . . . all the little mundanities of everyday life seem puerile beside the scope, might and jeopardy of a sea voyage. The contradiction of the two Acts may be valid but it still leaves Act I lacking in texture and suspense.
Cruz includes moments of song and dance which underscore the Cuban love of music and the way in which it is as much a part of their lives as speech. The playwright's own poetic way with words serves this play well.
It's a definite plus to have actors of Hispanic heritage in all three roles. Kadina deElejaide catches the vivacity and passion of Ines, Barrera brings welcome comic timing to Pepe, though it would be interesting to see more colors from an actor who could obviously provide them, and di Lorenzo anchors the play with simple honesty as Julio.
Craig Siebels'splendid set & projection design and Andrea Housh's skillful lighting are more than supporting elements in this production.
Mention should be made of new producer David Lee Strasberg's flair for play selection in The Group's first season and the high standard of excellence in his productions.
A BICYCLE COUNTRY
Written by Nilo Cruz
Directed by Richard Hochberg
Set & Projection Design by Craig Siebels
Lighting Design by Andrea Housh
Sound Design by Robbin E. Broad
Props & Set Decoration by Juan Carlos Malpeli
Running Time: 2 hours with intermission.
From April 4-May 13, 2001; opening: April 6.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock April 7.
Marilyn Monroe Theatre, Lee Strasberg Creative Center,
7936 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles
Box Office: (323) 650-7777 --