Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"Smash" and the Mechanical Steed

Smash is a play by Jeffrey Hatcher and based on an 1887 novel by George Bernard Shaw, An Unsocial Socialist.

Sounds like Barricades and the Revolution.

But what got my attention were the bikes! The poster for the play at Willamette University shows vintage bicycles.

The coincidence between it and the Occupy movement suggests it might be particularly relevant just now. Here's the first time a bike comes into Shaw's novel:
One fine May morning, as she cantered along the avenue at Brandon Beeches on a powerful bay horse, the gates at the end opened, and a young man sped through them on a bicycle. He was of slight frame, with fine dark eyes and delicate nostrils. When he recognized Lady Brandon he waved his cap; and when they met he sprang from his inanimate steed, at which the bay horse shied.

"Don't, you silly beast!" she cried, whacking the animal with the butt of her whip. "Though it's natural enough, goodness knows! How d'ye do? The idea of any one rich enough to afford a horse, riding on a wheel like that!"

"But I am not rich enough to afford a horse," he said, approaching her to pat the bay, having placed the bicycle against a tree. "Besides, I am afraid of horses, not being accustomed to them; and I know nothing about feeding them. My steed needs no food. He doesn't bite, nor kick. He never goes lame, nor sickens, nor dies, nor needs a groom, nor --"

"That's all bosh," said Lady Brandon impetuously. "It stumbles, and gives you the most awful tosses; and it goes lame by its treadles and thingamejigs coming off; and it wears out, and is twice as much trouble to keep clean and scrape the mud off as a horse; and all sorts of things. I think the most ridiculous sight in the world is a man on a velocipede, working away with his feet as hard as he possibly can, and believing that his horse is carrying him instead of, as anyone can see, he carrying the horse. You needn't tell me that it isn't easier to walk in the ordinary way than to drag a great dead iron thing along with you. It's not good sense."

"Nevertheless I can carry it a hundred miles further in a day than I can carry myself alone. Such are the marvels of machinery. But I know that we cut a very poor figure beside you and that magnificent creature—not that anyone will look at me whilst you are by to occupy their attention so much more worthily."
It is more than a little interesting to see this transportation choice already a marker for class and social status in the mid 1880s.

According the the press for the play,
Set in a British women’s college before World War I, “SMASH” romps its way through explorations of love, capitalism and human nature.

“SMASH” takes its title from the main character’s declaration that England has two options, “socialism or smash.” As Hatcher contends, Shaw understood that turmoil ensues from rapid, violent political change, so the play reflects Shaw’s recognition of the need for incrementalism – a series of smaller steps.
If you see it, drop a note and share how the bikes show up!

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