Cycling has many benefits: cardiovascular exercise, toning of thighs, energy-efficient transport. But in Nilo Cruz’s 1999 play A Bicycle Country—now enjoying its New York premiere—Cubans Pepe, Julio, and Ines see pedaling as a sign of devolution. Disgusted with the nation’s food and fuel shortages, Pepe complains, “We’re slowly going back to the Iron Age. We’re in a Bicycle Age out there. We’ve gone back to the wheel—a whole country riding bicycles.” So Pepe and his friends trade in their two-wheelers (and various family heirlooms) for car tires and lumber, then build a raft and flee their socialist paradise.
Perhaps they should have stayed—inconvenience on land seems preferable to slow death on the waves. Cruz has written an incensed, febrile drama, which relies too much on familiar plot devices and an excess of metaphor. At first, the quotidian details of Cuban life keep these tendencies in check; however, when the characters take to the sea, Cruz’s script turns especially indulgent—declining into a series of fights, sex scenes, and overheated hallucinations. Director Gil Ron and the uneven cast make a brave attempt to enact this immoderation, but eventually they, too, go overboard.