Becky (Greta Gerwig) is pregnant and horny. Her husband John (Jason Butler Harner) is not keen to have sex with her while she is expecting. So Becky makes do with John’s old porno DVDs and confusedly reaches out sexually for two men, a doddery plumber named Mike (Max Baker) and a rough and confident guy named Oliver (Scott Shepherd), who sells her the bike of the title so that she can, ahem, ride it. So far this is the stuff of old TV sitcoms, but then we are asked to take things far more seriously in the second act when Becky starts to lose what little control she once had.
The main problem with The Village Bike, which was written by Penelope Skinner and was a success in London, is length. It runs for two and a half hours on a very slender narrative, and the hoary symbolism of the bike itself, which is ridden by Gerwig in dreamy visuals projected on the back of the stage, is so bald a device that it isn’t even embarrassing—it’s just silly. The first act, in particular, could use some massive cutting, particularly the establishing scene between Becky and John, which is filled with aimless, inconsequential chatter. The character of Jenny (Cara Seymour), a village friend, seems wholly expendable, even if Seymour brings some welcome gravitas to her big scene with Becky where she shows all her neediness and storms out after being made to feel as inconsequential as she fears herself to be. But since Jenny’s also inconsequential to the play, this scene plays with unwelcome irony.
Setting aside its frankness about sex, The Village Bike is clearly one of those old-fashioned plays where a leading lady had to choose between Responsibility and Desire, and in 2014, it would seem that Responsibility still has its weight. As an exploration of the destructive force of sex and the limitations placed on women by motherhood, it lacks the requisite complexity, never staying for very long on anything that might prove enlightening or uncomfortable. Gerwig and Harner struggle with their British accents, and seem like they have barely met. While Gerwig has some chemistry with Shepherd, the main problem with her performance is her natural affability and charm. She has trouble seeming like a highly-strung woman who is almost dying to get laid because her whole persona has always been built on easygoing and often witty acceptance of life and its problems. The male characters are written as stereotypes that Harner and Shepherd can do nothing to complicate, and Harner is particularly hamstrung by a lame late scene where he explodes with anger because Gerwig’s Becky has been shopping at Tesco supermarket. As written, Harner’s husband is just a stooge and Shepherd’s lover is just a plot device, while Gerwig’s Becky is a woman defined solely by her sexual needs. For all its length, The Village Bike has all the depth of a ten-minute blackout sketch.