Caridad Svich’s ‘Red Bike’ features actor Brinden Banks
The children are do not very good. With an epidemic of depression among children and teens, rising rates of suicide among young adults, social workers and counselors noting an increase in anxiety among teens, one in five college students report being bullied , an increase in executive function disorders, children and adolescents in the 21st century – at least here in the United States – are suffering.
At Caridad Svich red bike, the Cuban-American playwright examines the crumbling American dream – that myth that hard work and seed leads to success – through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy. Produced by the Pan Underground organization of Washington, DC, a block party with this site-specific show at the center strives to disrupt the way audiences and performers experience theater. Founder Pete Danelski aims to bring productions to non-traditional spaces to provide and surprise audiences with choices about how they consume and participate in the performing arts.
red bike served as the centerpiece of an outdoor festival with a block party on Saturday, May 21, 2022, on the campus of the original disused site of Walter Reed Hospital located on 16th Street NW. The event with food tents and craft tents was located in a cul-de-sac in the shade – but alas, not in the shade on a 90 degree day – of the original military hospital building, where JFK was taken after his assassination. The asphalt and the aging building proved to be the ideal place for the action theater of Red bike.
Svich’s play features three speakers in the guise of a lonely 11-year-old child. Under the thoughtful direction of Pete Danelski, these three distinct voices – recorded and amplified – become the internal dialogue in our protagonist’s head. So even though Danelski’s version feels like a one-man show, the voice actors each offer distinct perspectives to the ongoing, sometimes tense, conversation this kid is having with himself. And what a prescient, articulate, sympathetic and heartbreaking character Svich has created. Pan Underground’s Child is played by 19-year-old Brinden Banks, a recent high school graduate. Lanky and athletic, with a drop of ponytailed locs pushing atop a shaved undercut, Banks has no spoken lines, but his emotional arc is fully evident in facial expressions and body language creating an indelible portrait. and child complex.
In jerks, Banks maneuvers the circle on the bike, occasionally parking and sprinting, flipping the bike upside down to play with the pedals, then stopping to sit slumped on a curb, when his thoughts rush overwhelms him. Dressed in a Dunbar High School t-shirt and shorts soon to be stained with sweat, this young man, in his professional debut, demonstrates an astonishing skill in conveying hope, wonder, fear and fear. disappointment of a child on the verge of adolescence, on the verge of knowing too much too soon. Banks is an actor to watch; her determination on stage no doubt mirrors hers. He should soon see him test his wings in another dramatic role.
As we meet this budding character, the Child jumps into a dead end. We hear his enthusiasm for this wonderful red bike – coveted in the store window, a treasured purchase by parents. Then there he is, leaning against a pillar along the doorway of the decaying building, in all his shining glory. As those who were once young and lucky to have cycled through unfamiliar neighborhoods until the streetlights came on know, a bicycle gives a child a sense of freedom, power and possibility – all essential. to develop body and mind.
And Svich’s triptych of monologues becomes an inner conversation as the Child meanders first, then speeds through the yard, pedaling effortlessly then clinging to his life, like a Tour de France cyclist – one of her goals. Red Bike, however, is more than just a ride around the neighborhood. This kid has big worries – about the five jobs his dad does, though he claims to only do two. About his parents’ lessons on how to be a good citizen. About encroaching gentrification – although he doesn’t use that big word. About the factory where his father goes to pack up and ship useless goods to a nation of overly ostentatious consumers, while his own family struggles to make ends meet. About the belching pollutants poisoning the skyline and the incessant drones – what are they good for? – that float in the air.
When he reaches the city’s business district, he sees all the possessions his family cannot afford. Then there’s the man who owns everything – an enemy in his child’s mind – who stuffs himself with quiche, probably the most fanciful food that child could imagine. Soon the hunt is on; this spectator assumes monstrous proportions; the tension mounts both in the narrative being expressed and on the bike. What had been a pleasant pedaling up a hill to see the scenery becomes a dangerous and uncontrollable descent. We imagine a child who launches madly down a path of doom, boom and crash. Anxiety rises. The smell of disaster wafts through the hot, sticky air.
It becomes clear that this child is living and surviving in a dystopian society. If that weren’t so ominous, some of the descriptions of this hometown’s oligarchic structure sound like the dark, comical town where Bart Simpson lives – but far more ominous than ironic. And as the kid — voiced by Alina Collins Maldonado, Ahmad Kamal, and Bianca Lipford — continues his excursion in spurts, this unnamed place feels both very close to home and very spooky. Imagine it through the eyes of an 11 year old.
But the Child also dreams of being a star, a superhero, a Tour de France rider. He is a child with adult concerns. The red bike is his escape, if only for an afternoon.
But this boy – overwhelmed by adult worries about his family not having enough food on the table, and the talk of his dying town, with not enough work or opportunities to support its people – is always a boy on his bike. As he pedals furiously, gulping air, sweat rolling down his brow, this beautiful red bicycle represents the Child’s escape from his adult troubles and worries. But ultimately where can he go? What can he do? Plaintively, he wonders, “What happens when you don’t know where you’re going? This kid, we hope, will be fine, but the odds, alas, are stacked against him.
Duration: approximately 50 minutes.
red bike by Caridad Svich performed May 21, 2022, presented by Pan Underground performing at Parks at Walter Reed, 1010 Butternut St. NW, Washington, DC.
Sources for the first paragraph
depression in children and adolescents: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression (figure 2)
suicides of young adults:
teen anxiety: https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/teen-anxiety-statistics/
executive function disorders: https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/61806
Pan Underground’s Popular ‘Red Bike’ Block Party Returns May 21 (new stories)