By Marcy Stamper
“Bike America,” the dramatic comedy opening at The Merc Playhouse in Twisp this weekend, is not only a literal cross-country journey, but also a journey of discovery that explores issues of identity, individuality and community.
The show follows Penny, a millennial who embarks on a transcontinental bike ride hoping that by trying on different lives in different states, she’ll figure out who she is and find her place in the world, said Merc Executive Director Missi Smith, who is also directing the play.
After leaving her boyfriend on a quest for a lifestyle that suits her and a place that feels like home, Penny hooks up with an idiosyncratic crew of cyclists: Ryan, a health nut and cycling instructor; Tim Billy, an adventurous wanderer; Annabel and Rorie, a lesbian couple who use the journey to test marriage equality; and the mysterious Man with the Van, who transports all their gear.
Award-winning playwright Mike Lew created an interesting structure for the play, which starts with a bit of a spoiler — we learn in the opening scene that Penny doesn’t actually complete her ride because of a serious accident — and then retraces the bike ride. As they cross state lines, Penny is ready with a stereotype of each one.
“It’s really funny, but it packs a wallop of emotion,” said Smith.
Throughout the journey, Penny is badgered for being a self-absorbed millennial. But she notes that the people she meets — all of whom dispense advice — have had opportunities to discover their passion. “It’s an interesting conversation about age and advice, from people representing different times,” said Smith.
The play is open to a range of interpretations, about the meaning of love and connection, and about adventure and the search for fulfillment. “It speaks to people — you kind of ride with her, sharing the experience of running away — and of running to something,” said Smith.
“At what point in our lives do we actually meet ourselves and figure out who we are? When do we know ourselves?” said Smith.
The staging is unusual — the cast pedals stationary bicycles for much of the show, while other action depicts their encounters across America.
Eight actors, veterans of The Merc and other Methow Valley stages — plus some completely new to theater — are featured in the show. Amy Sweet is Penny and Tony Love is her boyfriend. Mary Kiesau and Sharla Lynn play the lesbian couple. Matt Armbrust is the wanderer. Matt Draggoo is the cycling coach, and Marc Holm is the Man with the Van. Laurelle Walsh has two small roles and is stage manager.
Dean Hussey composed original music for the play as well as assembling a range of sound effects, from spinning gears to city traffic.
Bike America is at the Merc from Friday (July 13) to July 22, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Reserved seats for adults, available only online at mercplayhouse.org, are $18.
General admission at the door is $16 for adults and $5 for youths. Thursday, July 19, is “Pay What You Can” night.
The show contains adult language and themes.