At last weekend’s Art Walk in Westville, one of the main attractions was A Broken Umbrella Theatre’s performance of their latest theatrical outing, Head Over Wheels. And there are two more opportunities to see the show: Sat., May 19th, at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Situated outdoors at 446A Blake Street, beside the purling waters of the West River, the performance space consists of bleachers on the grass facing a friendly and fun-looking bike shop. The sun shines, the breeze breezes, and young children, parents, and other audience members are welcomed by the voice of a lively DJ (Matthew Gafney), introducing The Pierre Lallement Annual Community Bicycle Ride.
Clint (Ryan Gardner), the proprietor of the shop, is what might be described—putting it mildly—as a bike enthusiast. With his outgoing manner he makes bike-riding seem more natural than walking, and his bike buddies more than concur: a mild-mannered “paper boy”—a full-grown man (Lou Mangini) who delivers papers via bike as a family business—a pizza-delivery guy (Jason Wells) complete with a stack of pizza boxes, and a preening bicyclist-athlete (Ruben Ortiz) happily regale us with their love of bicycling.
With a catchy tune, they invite all the kids to take part in a drawing to see who will be the Grand Marshal of, with syncopated movements, “The Pierre Lallement Annual Community Bicycle Ride When the Entire Community Communes to Celebrate New Haven’s Rich History and Its Innovative Inventions Including the Bicycle…and Picnic.” When the winner is announced, the problems begin: Clint’s twin brother Flint (Ian Alderman) receives the honor, but there’s a major hitch: as he confides to us (and to the children particularly), Flint can’t ride a bike!
If you have small children and take them to live performances, you won’t want to miss this: the play not only involves a bit of New Haven history, it also works within a child’s perspective, as the best kids’ shows do. The company, particularly Ian Alderman, have a natural skill in eliciting responses from kids—getting them to participate in the lottery, and also—one of the more charming bits— to shout unscripted encouragement to Flint as he tries desperately to overcome his fear of bikes and his awkward uncertainty about how to ride the darn thing.
Some of the kids were so demonstrative about how he should go about this task that they clearly and proudly have mastered, there’s no doubt he would’ve gotten the hang of it. Fortunately, for the dramatic aspects of the show, he gets aid from another quarter: La La Lallement (Michelle Ortiz), descendent of the legendary Pierre himself, arrives with an air of fairy-godmother magic, to—with song and dance moves—get Flint up to speed.
But it’s not so simple, which requires Flint to come clean about his fear of bicycling. A judicious plot point, since it’s important, we realize, that Flint own up to the facts. Played as an engaging man-child by Alderman, Flint’s predicament stretches into all kinds of areas where kids might worry about not knowing how to do what everyone else seems to grasp already. So, there is instruction amidst all the fun.
The music (provided by Chrissy Gardner) keeps things lively, and the comic patter gets laughs—particularly from Antonio (Ruben Ortiz), who speaks in an unplaceable accent, picked up, he tells us, from all the places he’s biked through, and who offers to transport on his back on his bike the entire audience because his thighs are so strong. There are also sight gags, like Alderman trying to mount a bicycle, inventively finding every way to do it except the right way, and, later, his choices in protective attire.
Children generally enjoy watching adults being silly, and they won’t be disappointed here. And because the goal—riding a bike—is one they are familiar with or will be, the play, while fanciful, is also real enough.
Engaging and interactive, Head Over Wheels is another appealing offering from A Broken Umbrella Theatre.
Head Over Wheels
May 12 and May 19, 2012
Conceived and developed by A Broken Umbrella Theatre
Directed by Rachel Alderman
Story Development Team: Ian Alderman, Rachel Alderman, Chrissy Gardner, Ryan Gardner, Michelle Ortiz, Ruben Ortiz, and Jason Wells; Music: Chrissy Gardner; Choreographer: Robin Levine; Design Team: Janie Alexander, Jacy Barber, Ryan Gardner, and Laura Miracle Tamarkin; Stage Manager: Micah Stieglitz