Its technical ingeniousness and historical significance are often overlooked, so it's nice to see the humble bicycle get some well-deserved attention in Evalyn Parry's stylish show Spin, seeing its Winnipeg premiere after wheeling through other North American cities to critical acclaim over the last four years.
The pity is that it doesn't get a deeper treatment than Spin offers up, as it whizzes by intriguing notions with a bit of a blur.
Though Spin is primarily an 80-minute solo show, Parry is accompanied by a fine trio of string players (cellist Kevin Fox, violist Angela Rudden and violinist Kathleen Kajioka) and percussionist Brad Hart, who plays the bicycle.
Not that he portrays a bicycle — rather, he skillfully taps, bangs and plucks a cleverly microphoned bicycle as a percussive instrument, backing Parry up as she moves through a series of songs, stories and spoken word poems about the history of the bicycle and the role it played in the emancipation of women.
That's a fascinating idea — and I have to confess I'd never honestly considered the part the bicycle might have played in liberating women from the confines of their homes, restrictive skirts, and relying on men to take them where they needed to go.
Embodying that idea in Spin is the story of Annie Londonderry, who in 1895 became the first woman to cycle solo around the world. Along the way, she also became a talented self-promoter and entrepreneur, selling sponsorships, speaking engagements, photo ops and pins to anyone willing to buy into the story of a woman on a remarkable quest.
It's a fascinating tale, but like many of the promising ideas in Spin, told too thinly through song and narrative. Do we get much of a sense of who Annie Londonderry was, or why she set off on her incredible journey? No, not really — Parry raises more questions than she answers about Londonderry, leaving me with a distinct sense of "tell me more."
Parry takes on other characters too, from the stuffy doctor who warns a woman may "rattle the fertility right out of her womb" by riding a bicycle, to suffragist Frances Willard, who wrote, "She who succeeds in gaining mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life."
But the characters were played in a curiously subdued manner by Parry during her Wednesday preview performance, and zipped by us without ever making much of an impression. They do leave us with some thoughtful, but brief, meditations on the importance of the bike.
Parry also riffs a bit on the other meaning of "spin," taking glancing shots at advertising, marketing and political spin that don't offer much we haven't heard before.
At the same time, there's much to admire in the style of Spin, directed by Ruth Madoc-Jones and given impressive production design by Beth Kates. Kates' clever projections and animations give Parry's stories visual flair, and there's great fun in watching the ingenious way Hart plays a suspended bicycle as a musical instrument.
Parry's blending of multiple art forms, including music, poetry and biographical storytelling, is an interesting approach that offers a little something for everyone.
And she's a talented wordsmith — sentiments like "Without resistance, we'd never get anywhere" and "Your heart is the motor" may not be terribly profound, but in the context of a piece about the power of the bicycle, they do have resonance.
Spin begins with laudable ambition and is a stylistic success. But it ultimately spends too much time spinning its wheels to really take off.
Spin runs at Prairie Theatre Exchange until Jan. 31.