Working on a script that is open to interpretation gives directors the freedom to put their own stamp on the material. Director Lisa Berger has been given this opportunity for Moxie Theatre’s production of an “open text” play by Caridad Svich, “Red Bike.”
It is “the first play in the ‘American Psalm’ seven-play cycle,” and is primarily told as a series of short scenes. The story is about an 11-year-old child with a deep connection to a red bike.
Throughout the show, the audience learns about the child’s life in a town that the kid believes is deteriorating.
While the subject matter is about a child coming of age, Svich’s complex writing keeps it from being classified as a piece of theater targeted toward families.
Berger became involved with the staging after Moxie’s co-founder and executive artistic director, Jennifer Eve Thorn, asked her to read the script.
“It caught me in the first couple of pages,” she said. “I always go by whether a project scares me. If I does, I should probably do it.”
Svich’s script allows “for one or more performers” and gives directors the option to cast people of different genders and age groups.
The script is free of scene descriptions and stage directions, and is only made up of spoken dialogue, which means it’s up to the cast and crew, including Berger, to visually present the plot.
“You really have to use your theatrical imagination to try and tell the story,” Berger said.
An important point that Berger emphasized is that Svich consistently plays with time.
“The kid lives both in the past and the present, and you see the kid’s experiences through the past, the present, liminal space, memory, and dreams,” she said. “Time is not realistic in this play.”
Through emails, Berger talked to Svich and asked questions about her writing. She is grateful for the assistance Svich gave her as she explored the playwright’s prose.
When discussing Svich’s writing style, Berger described her dialogue for the child as “poetic, simple, spare, and impactful.”
Aiding Berger with the unconventional show are Nancy Ross and Timothy L. Cabal, who both play the young kid at the center of the tale.
Ross is working with Berger for the first time, and the director was a professor of Cabal’s when he was studying theater at MiraCosta College.
Ross gives Berger credit for letting her and Cabal contribute to creating a unique depiction of the protagonist.
“Berger has been incredibly wonderful at letting Cabal and I explore, play, and discover together,” she said. “I can’t imagine a better way to get to know a stranger in such a quick amount of time.”
The two leads have been impacted by Berger’s leadership during the rehearsal process.
“She does such a good job of relating the text to personal stories of her own and her friends that are very universal,” Ross said. “She is quite an incredible woman.”
“Berger has taken us by the hand, and I couldn’t have asked for a better guide for this play,” Cabal said.
If the narrative is a hard one to properly explain, given that the script doesn’t feature a straightforward story structure (a fact that Berger acknowledges), Cabal still encourages audiences to go in with an open mind.
“I almost want people to come in blind, because I feel that the messages are universal,” he said. “Come see this show if you’re a human being who lives in this community.”
Ross agrees and thinks both theater lovers and non-theater fans will find plenty to take away from the offbeat experience. “This is going to be a whirlwind for everyone, including us,” she said.
For tickets and more information on “Red Bike,” visit moxietheatre.com or call 858-598-7620.
—David Dixon is a San Diego freelance writer with a bent toward film and theater articles.
Jan. 24-Feb. 16
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays 8 p.m.; Sundays 2 p.m.
Moxie Theatre,6663 El Cajon Blvd., Suite N