Like A Five Wheeled Bicycle
Fever Theater at the B & O Warehouse, 107 SE Washington, 233-4420, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, through Feb 19, $10-15

Essayist Adam Gopnik once wrote that for Americans, happiness is synonymous with absorption--as a culture, we have difficulty becoming fully engaged with the world around us. Fever Theater tackles this very problem with the full force of its talented ensemble--and by Gopnik's standard, they should succeed in creating audiences of happy, if slightly befuddled, Americans.

The ramshackle B&O Warehouse is a fitting venue for this otherworldly little production. Riding the freight elevator up to the cramped, chilly confines of the seventh-floor performance space feels a little like falling up the rabbit hole and entering an alternate reality where absurdity cartwheels around logic, and parody and metaphysics mix.

As the name suggests, Like a Five Wheeled Bicycle only has eyes for circles. The piece eschews any concept of linearity, creating a cyclical landscape that revolves around rhythms and relationships rather than narrative. The stage is divided into five realms, each of which represents a different aspect of reality. In one, cast members form a human machine that processes bread; in another, a father brings home loaves of the same bread to his wife and child. The cast of five juggles several roles apiece as they move from realm to realm, enacting interwoven patterns of production and consumption while remaining ignorant of the fundamental interconnectedness that makes each world possible. This ignorance results in the eventual dissolution of order into chaos, as the "wheels" spin at an increasingly frantic pitch before breaking down entirely.

If it sounds wanky and incoherent, it easily could have been--but luckily, the ensemble pulls it off. Director Aurora Erlander-Miller seems to understand that there are few things more compelling than rhythm and humor, and both are used to good effect here. A hypnotic spectacle ensues, punctuated by frequently witty dialogue and physical comedy that at times borders on slapstick. Even when the play has ceased making sense entirely, the cast's energy and charisma continues to charm--and when it ends, the trip back down the elevator to pedestrian reality is just disappointing enough to reinforce how absorbing a world Fever Theater has created.