A NoHo Arts theatre review of “California Coast Classic,” written and performed by Luella Wagner and directed by Nancy Santiago at Whitefire Theatre.
Luella Wagner is hilarious. I saw her show “Rudy, Get Up” at the Whitefire in 2020, pre-covid shut down. As a parent, I totally connected with her take on motivating a son. I also saw her solo show about teaching Native American kids in Montana, which was brilliant. This show is entirely different, although just as funny and heartwarming.
The California Classic is a sponsored bike ride held every year from San Fransisco to Malibu for the Arthritis Foundation. I had never heard of it before, so now I know that more than 100 riders do this every year and The Arthritis Foundation runs the whole affair, support teams, hotel bookings, safety and even the food for the riders.
Luella had never heard of it either, until she started riding bikes to get fit and become part of a community. Her first couple of attempts to go were thwarted by injury and sickness. But as s soon as she was able to, she was back in the saddle and training with her group of biking enthusiasts. I’m exhausted even thinking about how many miles she rode each day to get in shape for the grueling ride. But as she tells her wonderful story, full of its learning curves, frustrations and triumphs, I remembered how much fun it was to ride my bike as a kid, freewheeling down the hills near my home, pushing it back up the grade 6 hillside roads to do it all over again.
There’s something special about riding a bike, traveling under your own steam, feeling the air on your face, dicing with death a bit. Luella breathes wonderful life into this vivid tale of one woman’s unlikely ambition and how she conquered it. With her charming, warm-hearted repartee, her brilliant characterisations, and the fantastic audio recorded by the actual people she shares with us in her play, “California Coast Classic,” we feel like we are as much a part of her story as she is.
Solo shows have become my absolute favourite form of theatre. Good or bad they are special because of the people that perform them.
Luella Wagner’s “California Coast Classic” is special because of her, but it is also absolutely genius.
There’s bike on stage, set in a contraption that allows Luella to actually ride as she tells us all about her training and the ride itself. This is a stroke of genius. On one side of the stage is the bike and on the other is a bed, where Luella collapse at the end of every riding day. She takes us through the whole event and leaves nothing out. Each leg of the journey beautiful recounted, each fitful sleep, each delicious breakfast, each encounter, each glorious victory, and all the friends she made along the way.
There’s something very special about Luella, the theatre was full of her friends, and they seemed to agree with my assessment.
But she is above all else a born storyteller. Endearing, inventive, very very funny and totally believable. She is a wonder on the stage, giving her all as she joyfully shares her story.
I loved the show and look forward to the next chapter of Luella’s journey. Whatever will she do next?
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