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Rochester Fringe Festival, Day 1: "The Bicycle Men" review

An energetic show that relies on sophomoric humor


Good old-fashioned vulgarity is taking a terrible beating these days at the hands of young playwrights who never learned that four-letter words and exaggerated descriptions of sex aren't especially funny in and of themselves. It's not the profanity I object, to but the witlessness that accompanies it. Without wit or cleverness, vulgarity flying around a stage is as close as we're going to get to the definition of sophomoric. And that takes us to "The Bicycle Men," which would find a welcome home in a fraternity house on a Saturday night. The four young men who performed it at Geva'sNextstage on Wednesday, the first night of the first Rochester Fringe Festival, were certainly energetic, but nowhere near lively enough to cover over the writers' inability to write interesting dialogue or create character beyond the level of sketch comedy.

I wasn't kidding when I suggested that it felt like the entertainment at a fraternity party. It was written by a bunch of guys -- Dave Lewman, Joe Liss, Mark Nutter, and John Rubano. Nutter also wrote the music and lyrics for the pleasing, nicely varied score, and Liss and Rubano are in the cast. It began to feel a little like nepotism until Derek Manson as Steve emerged from the pack. In a story about a fellow who's traveling through France when his bike breaks down in a small village, he sings well, moves fluidly, and projects an easy charm. Waiting for someone to repair his bike so he can move on, he sits through an amusing show by live marionettes and encounters a motley crew of characters, each of whom has a song about himself that offers no insight and adds nothing to the story. In other words, the show is basically a revue hung on what passes loosely for a plot. Rubano has a rich voice but doesn't always know what to do with his hands, and Liss is a competent mime at the start of the performance.

(NOTE: "The Bicycle Men" will also play Thursday, September 20, 6-7 p.m.; Friday, September 21, 7:30-8:30 p.m.; and Saturday, September 22, 1:30-2:30 p.m. at the Geva Theatre Nextstage. Tickets cost $15. The show is recommended for ages 16+)