Freewheelers, the new production by A Broken Umbrella Theatre featured in the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, takes place in a renovated space at 300 State Street, a large room entered, via a subterranean passageway—and a grand old elevator—from Chapel Street, where Horowitz Brothers once stood. The work done simply to make the space available was considerable and the little trip to the playing space lets one reflect on the layers of history that ABUT projects tend to excavate. Since 2009, the diverse troupe has embraced the past of New Haven as inspiration for shows that create a sense of community while making entertaining use of facts about our city. The current show is not quite so grand as the Library Project last fall, but what it lacks in range it makes up for in focused story. The story of Anne (Lisa Daly), a factory worker with a yen to cycle on the exciting new invention the bicycle (patented in New Haven in 1866), is paralleled with the story of Elizabeth (Robin Levine), wife of Isaac the factory owner, who has some health issues that cause her to faint at times. What does the modern doctor (Lou Mangini) prescribe, to the consternation of conservative Isaac? Why, cycling! It does wonders for the constitution, of course, but…
But this is the 1800s and women mustn’t do anything unseemly—especially not in public! To make matters worse that factory Isaac runs happens to be rather new-fangled itself: it’s the first factory to manufacture woman’s most necessary accessory—the corset! Mr. Isaac Adler (played with measured if questionable authority by Ian Alderman) isn’t likely to embrace the idea of his wife cycling, nor is he amused when Anne shows up for work in male attire, the only way to cycle comfortably, you see. . .
As you might expect, the women may have to come to an understanding. Along the way, there are lovely songs to set the mood, factory routine that smacks of Metropolis, Levine’s dance routine with a chair—we all know Flashdance, sure, but here the pas de deux with a Chippendale actually serves a thematic purpose and is quite expressive—and some verbal fun via overlap when Isaac and Bigelow, his 2nd in Command (Mangini), plot how to make “boning” more flexible (no jokes, please, this is a kid-friendly production) while the women get flexible on their wheels. The men are referring, of course, to whalebone, the stiffening ingredient in the torso-confining strait jacket known as the corset.
As Anne, Daly is fresh-faced and earnest—not subversive, just common-sensical. As the more “vaporish” Elizabeth, Levine has the right waxen look for a wife being discussed in the third person by her husband and her doctor, and her reaction to Anne’s response to her inadvertent humor gets a big laugh. As Amelia, one of the children employable at a factory in this benighted time, Remsen Welsh is charmingly wise beyond her years. Mangini is deferential as the doctor, dedicated as Bigelow, and slightly conflicted as the bicycle store owner selling to a young woman a tool in her liberation. As the factory workers, Megan Black, Cynthia Miller, and Malenky Welsh do simulated sewing in synch and let their tongues wag with the resentment of exploited labor. Adler’s got a lot of headaches ahead of him…maybe there’s the possibility of a sequel as we follow the course of the corset from its heyday through its decline and onto the pages of Victoria’s Secrets.
Freewheelers, with its effective score and songs by Chrissy Gardner, does a fine job of combining the troupe’s historical interests with a contemporary vibe to arrive at a little machine as efficient as a well-oiled bike.
International Festival of Arts & Ideas presents
Freewheelers Conceived and created by A Broken Umbrella Theatre
Story Development Team: Rachel Alderman, Ian Alderman, Dana Astmann, Jacy Barber, Lisa Daly, Brandon Fuller, Chrissy Gardner, Robin Levine, Jes Mack, Lou Mangini, Michelle Ortiz, Ruben Ortiz, Jason Wells
Director & Playwright: Rachel Alderman; Composer, Lyricist, Musical Director: Chrissy Gardner; Movement Director: Robin Levine; Set Designer: Brandon Fuller; Costume Designer: Jacy Barber; Lighting Designer: Trui Malten; Sound Designer: Dave Baker; Production Manager: Janie Alexander; Stage Manager: Katrina Lewonczyk
June 15, 16, 22, 23, 29 at 3pm June 16, 23 at 7pm June 15, 19, 22, 26, 29 at 8pm