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'Asleep on a Bicycle' at Lillian Theatre

October 15, 2008 |  6:04 pm

'Asleep on a Bicycle'

"This is a dream — I’m safe here," muses Linda, the comatose heroine of Tony Foster’s "Asleep on a Bicycle." Wishful thinking, alas. There’s a lot at stake as she confronts a bizarre parade of characters and conflicts from her waking life.

If the premise sounds familiar, the execution is anything but in David Fofi’s superb staging for Elephant Theatre Company. Exploring dream reality can become a license to indulge weirdness for its own sake.

Not here, fortunately. Funny, ironic and surprisingly moving, Foster’s smartly written new play follows a surreal but well-structured associative logic, through which seemingly incongruous elements gradually reveal their connections to Linda, played with sympathy and wit by Gina Garrison. A temp job had sent Linda on a bicycle delivery mission during which she fell asleep (hence the title); the resulting collision landed her in the hospital.

The myriad frustrations that led to Linda’s predicament take shape as she wanders through a stunning dreamscape dominated by scenic designer Joel Daavid’s immense overhanging tree of woven wicker canes, a foreboding image that gathers symbolic associations with family, fertility and life. A haunting score by the duo Lanfair Field adds to the atmosphere.

Foster has assembled an intriguing set of real and imaginary characters who embody her unfulfilled longings: weak-willed Jeff (Robert Foster, alternating with Nelson DelRosario), the hospital nurse (Deanna Cordano) with whom he may be having an affair, Linda’s suicidal genius brother (Ryan Radis, subbing for Josh Breeding), an alcoholic mother (Cheryl Huggins) and a perky nun (Patricia Rae) form the real-life contingent. More fanciful apparitions include a glamorous film star from the 1960s (Maya Parish), an ax murderess (Alexandra Hoover or Tara Norris) and the daughter she never had (Jade Dornfield).

The fragments all fit together, but their emotional impact and resonance depend on vivid, pitch-perfect performances that illuminate the rich complexities of everyday life in ways that a straightforward narrative never could.

Look for reviews of "Two Trains Running," "Gem of the Ocean," "The Sequence," "Porcelain" and "Waiting in the Wings" on Friday.

-- Philip Brandes

Caption: Gina Garrison, Josh Breeding, Cheryl Huggins and Patricia Rae in "Asleep on a Bicycle."

Credit: Joel Daavid