Cycle of life

Elizabeth Barkan spins a tale of recklessness and redemption.   Photo courtesy of the production

Elizabeth Barkan spins a tale of recklessness and redemption. Photo courtesy of the production

BY SCOTT STIFFLER  |  Life has a way of abruptly putting the brakes on — or at least taking the air out of your tires. When we first meet 17-year-old Bobby, she’s a highly skilled, hell-on-two-wheels bike messenger who seems to care about little other than getting her adrenaline fix and delivering her package on time. Brushing off an occasional trip across the hood of a car as the cost of doing business, that reckless nature serves her well — until a breakneck trip though Union Square causes a truck to swerve, jump the curb, and take out an innocent pedestrian.

‘Bike Shop’ is a full circle trip from damage to repair

Two years later, wracked with guilt and stuck in slow gear, Bobby’s former mode of transport (and livelihood) hangs on the wall of her family’s Brooklyn bike shop — where she does self-imposed penance by using her skills to repair every conceivable broken thing except herself. It’s painful to watch this likable, sweet, and once-fearless young woman so haunted by a split second misdeed that she’s unable to even entertain the notion of accepting a customer’s flirtatious advances. With no obvious flaws, she says, he’s not damaged enough to be a suitable match. Well, she doesn’t say it, so much as sing it:

I’d love to go outside

And take a ride

Somewhere with you

But so much here needs fixing

As more rolls in

So thank you

But no thank you

You should have seen me before

I’d have gone out every night

I used to be someone else

I wish I had stopped at that light

The passion project of former bike shop owner, bicycle messenger, and competitive racer Elizabeth Barkan, “Bike Shop” is a sharply written, poignantly observed, and nimbly performed one-act musical that — while anchored in regret — has far more to offer than the tale of one person’s gloomy struggle to get back on track. It’s also an exuberant, century-spanning tribute to the hopes, dreams, and survival skills of a bike-obsessed Brooklyn clan. In their capable grease monkey hands, the bike becomes a vehicle for emancipation, economic empowerment, and even religious awakening. (Bobby’s uncle, a would-be rabbi, teaches a spinning class — and her grandmother landed on Ellis Island in 1935 with little more than a penny farthing bike, mechanical know-how and entrepreneurial chutzpah).

With instrumental support from a four-piece “Bicycle Band,” Barkan shifts from character to character, while building and fixing real bicycles on the stage. In a bid to encourage zero emission commuting, real-life spinning instructor Barkan wants cyclists to ride their bikes to the theater and park them on the stage. If the wheels you arrive on are a bit worse for the wear, slip the stage manager a note before the show. You just might be sent home with a repair job as thorough and satisfying as the one Bobby undergoes.

Book by Elizabeth Barkan
Lyrics by Caroline Murphy
Music by Youn-Young Park
Music Direction by Gerry Dieffenbach
Directed by Gretchen Cryer
Performed by Elizabeth Barkan & The Bicycle Band
Through July 6
No shows on June 29 or July 4
Mon. – Sat. at 7:30 p.m. & Sun. at 3 p.m.
At Theater For The New City
155 First Ave. (btw. Ninth & Tenth Sts.)
For tickets ($15), call 212-254-1109 or visit
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