IN PRODUCTION Elissa Stebbins as Becky, Nick Medina as John in The Village Bike by the Shotgun Players. Photo: Pak han
Elissa Stebbins as Becky and Nick Medina as John in The Village Bike by the Shotgun Players. Photo: Pak Han

Count on the fearless Shotgun Players to produce The Village Bike, a contemporary British play by Penelope Skinner about a pregnant woman who isn’t getting enough sex. This amusing, slightly rueful two-act play, though superficially about sexual incompatibility in a marriage, also gives us a glimpse into modern marriage and contemporary English life.

Recent additions to their trendy village, newly pregnant Becky (Elissa Stebbins), an English teacher, and her husband, John (Nick Medina), in advertising, bought an old house with faulty “sweaty” plumbing. The analogy of stuffed-up groaning pipes hints at the more serious problems that permeate their household.

John has lost all interest in sex, afraid it hurt the baby, says he. He prefers to spend his time lecturing his wife about how to have the perfect baby and how to buy organic meat. Becky, however is much more interested in sex, and if her husband is not willing, why not masturbate to porn flicks, or scout the neighborhood for willing male companionship?

Kevin Clarke as Oliver, Elissa Stebbins as Becky in The Village Bike. Photo: Pak Han
Kevin Clarke as Oliver and Elissa Stebbins as Becky in The Village Bike. Photo: Pak Han

Becky, longing for the freedom of a bicycle for transportation, meets Oliver (Kevin Clarke), who sells her his wife’s old bicycle. The bike also references an English cliché about available women … she’s like the village bike, everyone’s had a ride on her…

Soon Becky and Oliver are having a clandestine affair. With each encounter, their escapades grow raunchier. Becky becomes more obsessive and possessive as she plays out a wide range of sexual fantasies. Oliver is happy to oblige, but only while his wife is out of town. In fact, many spouses seem to be traveling for work. John goes to Amsterdam, while chatty neighbor Jenny (excellent El Beh) has a totally absent husband.

At the start Becky is seeking merely physical thrills and satisfaction. Although the subject matter of The Village Bike may be considered daring, in what seems to be a cop-out, playwright Penelope Skinner has Becky ultimately wanting more than just sex from her affair. I wish that the play had dwelled more concretely on what sex, love and motherhood mean to Becky. Are her wanton ways simply an escape from her impending adult responsibilities? We can only surmise from the absence of any positive comments that she isn’t enthusiastic about her pregnancy.

Perhaps she’s beginning to realize that her husband is a self-absorbed nincompoop. In a funny second act scene tinged with sadness, John ignores the obvious proof of Becky’s infidelities and is instead angry about her secret trips to Tesco, the non-organic supermarket, where she buys chicken(!) and uses Tesco plastic bags (!) rather than bringing her own cloth one.

Artistic Director Patrick Dooley, very capably directs The Village Bike, which has already had successful runs in London and New York. The lead actors, Elissa Stebbins, Nick Medina and Kevin Clarke bring much talent and freshness to their roles. As Becky, Elissa Stebbins succeeds well in a particularly difficult part. And she is on stage for most all of the production. Nina Ball’s ingenious multi-level set adds realism to the play.

So, while I wished that TheVillage Bike had explored its subject matter more analytically, and delved more deeply into the protagonist’s psyche, it is a funny and fresh take on the vagaries of marriage and pregnancy.

The Village Bike is playing nightly at the Ashby Stage through July 3, and in repertory through Jan.31, 2017. For information visit Shotgun Players online.

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Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...