The Bicycle Men
nytheatre.com review by Charles Battersby
August 12, 2006
I saw The Bicycle Men in its first FringeNYC production a few years ago, and I still occasionally yell out its catch phrase "Non! Bicyclette!" That's the sign of a good joke. The show is back again this year as part of the F.A.P.P. (Fringe Alumni Production Project), and will certainly leave a few more people spouting "Non! Bicyclette!"
The Bicycle Men is a musical sketch comedy show which lampoons bicycles and Frenchness, using a French demigod of bicycles called "L'Homme du Bicyclette," who's booming voice can periodically be heard to call out "Non! Bicyclette!" to the residents of a small French village.
The story, such as it is, follows American tourist Steve (Dave Lewman) after his bike breaks down on the outskirts of an extremely French town. After a farcical meeting with some zany bike shop owners (Joe Liss and Mark Nutter) he finds himself trapped in this little town for who-knows-how-long. What follows is a series of sketches and songs that mostly center around bikes ("A Traveling Metaphor!") and general Frenchness ("You do not buy your baguettes at a patisserie! You buy a baguette at the bouloungerie!"). There's a lot of fun poked at the presumed arrogance and pretentiousness of our croissant-loving friends as Steve flounders his way through a snooty youth hostel, an artsy puppet show, and a "fully licensed and accredited talent show" which features the smartest dog poop gag I've ever seen.
A couple of the gags don't hold to the Frenchness of the rest of the show, and stick out like a sore pouce, including a number about race relations at a fish fry. Funny, but not really French. This is forgivable, since it's all amusing enough, and The Bicycle Men isn't trying to deconstruct the human condition or anything.
The four members of the cast are versatile and talented, both as comedians and as singers. The three already mentioned are joined by John Robano as L'Homme Du Bicyclette. All except Lewman are multi-cast as assorted characters, including Robano as a wacky guy named Chester Manchester (yuk yuk).
The music is well done too; the "Traveling Metaphor" song will be in your head for weeks to come; and you, like me, might find yourself still yelling "Non! Bicyclette!" years from now.
The show was first performed a few years ago when rampant Anti-Frenchism was flooding America's heartland and, even though most Americans have stopped using the phrase "Freedom Fries", the humor still works. The show isn't out to make any grand statements about foreign policy; it's just here to make people laugh. It does so, and is an excellent choice for the Fringe Alumni Production Project.