Pea Green Theatre Group revisits sure ground in Three Men on a Bike, currently playing at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace as part of the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival. The show is a fast-paced, witty, fourth-wall breaking repartee adapted from the travel writings of Jerome K. Jerome (adapted for the stage by Mark Brownell).
Considering this is a follow-up to Three Men in a Boat, perhaps it’s not surprising that Jay (Matt Pilipiak, playing a stand-in for author Jerome K. Jerome) considers the possibility of “second publication syndrome” as he tells the audience how he came to follow up on his first publication.
As someone who never saw the previous show, I can say that outside of feeling like I missed a few jokes, for the most part, one does not inform the other. This time around, Jay and his friends George (Victor Pokinko) and Harris (David DiFrancesco) decide to go biking in Germany. As usual with them, nothing goes right on their vacation.
Pokinko, DiFrancesco, and Pilipiak are built for their roles (which Pokinko and Pilipiak are reprising from Three Men in a Boat). Pokinko plays the rich and bored George with as much physical comedy he can throw at it, while Pilipiak is cuttingly witty. DiFrancesco is, hilariously, the straight man to his chaotic compatriots.
There’s also a lot to look at in Three Men on a Bike. Directed by Sue Miner, the show very cleverly uses the various levels on stage in unexpected ways. Trust me when I say you will be laughing at the uphill bicycle sequence. It’s genius.
Everything moves at a clipped pace, but the 75 minute run time, in my opinion, does catch up to it, leaving moments where the story lags. Even perfect casting and a fun performance can’t quite make the material feel fresh. You can spot some of the jokes a mile away, and sometimes the characters themselves feel pushed to the very edge of mindless caricature.
In many respects, some of the back and forths, particularly an early sequence discussing Harris’ marriage, embody a repetitive comedy. It’s not that it’s not funny; I feel like it’s a staple of this specific genre. But in my opinion, I think that makes it a bit tedious.
While I have no doubt this will be a hit of the Fringe (the audience loved it), I can’t help but feel it’s a very conventional show. I laughed out loud, but I don’t think I left feeling like it was all that memorable.
If you just want a solid show, Three Men on a Bike is one you’ll want to see, even if it does feel like it’s biking a well-trodden path.
- Three Men on a Bike plays at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace. (30 Bridgman Ave.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (275 Bathurst St.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warning: gunshots.
- This venue is barrier-free. Designated accessible seating is in the middle of the auditorium.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- The Toronto Fringe Festival is scent-free: please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or other strongly-scented products.
- Thursday, July 4th, 6:15 pm
- Saturday, July 6th, 10:00 pm
- Monday, July 8th, 8:45 pm
- Wednesday, July 10th, 5:45 pm
- Thursday, July 11th, 2:00 pm
- Saturday, July 13th, 8:00 pm
- Sunday, July 14th, 2:00 pm
Photo of David DiFrancesco, Matt Pilipiak, Victor Pokinko by Mark Brownell