Review: SPIN

by Lynn on November 21, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written and performed by Evalyn Parry
Directed by Ruth Madoc-Jones.
Video and production design by Beth Kates
Arrangements for String Trio by Michael Holt
Also starring: Brad Hart on the Bicycle
Don Kerr on the Cello
Kathleen Kajioka on Viola
Anne Lindsay on Violin

A terrific journey on and about the bicycle, women’s emancipation and bloomers.

The Story. Evalyn Parry tells us in song and occasionally speech about the importance of the bicycle regarding women’s emancipation. She tells several stories involving 19th Century adventurers and women’s rights activists. The main story is about Annie Londonderry, who, on a dare from a man, decided to ride a bicycle around the world in 1895! She was 23, married with three children, and she left them to go on this year-long adventure.

She funded her trip by selling post cards of her on her bike and by selling advertising space on her clothes and her bike. That’s an idea that has caught on if golf pros, tennis players etc. are any indication. The selling of ads provides a different definition of ‘spin’ besides the spin of the bicycle wheels.

Parry tells how the bicycle provided freedom to those women more than 100 years ago. It was a chance to break out of the home and perhaps drudgery. The clothing proved a problem. The dresses worn at the time were layered, heavy and cumbersome when trying to ride a bicycle. And there was the corset underneath. Along comes something called “Bloomers”. They were named after Amelia Bloomer, who did not invent them—I believe that was the Egyptians. Amelia Bloomer was a writer and publishing mover and shaker at the time, and championed those billowing pants, so the nickname for the pants came from her.

The Production. Stage left is a man’s bike raised on a stand. Centre stage is a microphone and two guitars on stands. Stage right are three chairs and music stands for the string trio who wear black pants, white shirt, perhaps formal tailed jackets: Don Kerr on cello (he wears goggles as he plays), Kathleen Kajioka on viola wears a black bowler hat; Anne Linsday on violin does not wear anything out of the ordinary as far as I can tell.

When the show is about to begin, Brad Hart takes his position behind the bicycle and begins to play it—ringing the bells on the handle-bars; tapping the cross-bar and seat; stroking the fender with a brush, plucking a spoke or two; twanging on something else.

Evalyn Parry, who wrote the script and the songs, appears in what looks like a circus master of ceremonies costume—red jacket with tails, tight black pants and maroon boots: Her hair is in one braid in the back, perhaps to suggest the 1890s yet she is also firmly in the 21st century.

There are projections on the back wall as well; a circle with the word “spin” repeated in the circle then spiralled; there are projections of bicycles through the ages; pictures of feminist icons of the day: Annie Londonderry, Emilia Bloomer, Frances E. Willard.

But it’s Parry with her easy smile, sense of irony and lilting voice that tells the story in song and dialogue that draws us in. She conjures the world of women on bikes in 1895 in the song, “She Rides”. She sings of Amelia Bloomer and her crusade for fashion reform in “Amelia Bloomer Sings for Fashion Reform,” and she talks about spin in terms of biking and advertising in “World of Spin.” Her songs are articulate, literate, occasionally impish, always witty and provocative. It’s directed with understated attention by Ruth Madoc-Jones.

Comment. When Spin played at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre three years ago, it played in the smaller Tallulah’s Cabaret. Now after touring the country from east to west and top to bottom for three years, Evalyn Parry and her troop have returned to Buddies, this time playing in the larger Chamber. The play is still intimate but now plays to a larger audience.

There are a few changes. A string trio has been added and their playing gives the sense of bicycle wheels spinning and movement happening, usually accompanied by wind in one’s hair. The music of the trio is by Michael Holt. There is also an additional moving song about a relative of Annie Londonderry who has taken her own journey and thus influences Evalyn Parry on hers.

Spin is parked at parked at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre for one short week and plays until Nov. 23 after which it will ride off into the sunset. By writing about women in 1895 and their sense of earned freedom with the bicycle, Parry has created a parallel comment about our own times. Spin is thoughtful, perceptive, provocative, insightful and moving. Don’t miss it.

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Outspoke Productions present:

Opened: Nov. 19, 2014
Closes: Nov. 23, 2014
Cast: 2; 1 man, one woman (a trio of musicians)
Running Time: 80 minutes.

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