In college, a friend of mine said tripping on acid was the ultimate inside joke: if you’d done it you got it; if you hadn’t you wondered what the big deal was.
You could say the same for modern art, religious enthusiasm, and fashion week. From an outsider’s perspective the shiny, happy faces and breathless testimonials are either delusional or cynically fake. But LSD is more than a social convention or manifestation of groupthink; it affects the body and the mind – the bodymind – simultaneously, fusing the two in the most unexpected and necessary ways. In religious terms, it’s the equivalent of Eve eating the apple. Before you taste it you are an extra in the movie of your own life, observing your emotional pain with cool detachment through the lens of endlessly repeated, self-deluding narratives. From the secure perch of innocence nothing can really touch you. Afterwards you know the meaning of good and evil from the inside.
Martin Dockery’s new dramatic monologue The Bike Trip playing now at the Kraine Theater explores the awakening promised by LSD and its ramifications thoughtfully and with nuance. And he gives the audience a rather large dose of humor too.
The most common adjective used to describe Dockery’s work is “manic.” His dramatic presence crackles with energy, and I found myself staring at the veins on his neck bulge and pulse while he prowled from one end of the stage to the other. This is not an 80s Robin Williams, high on cocaine; Dockery’s work is fabricated out of an LSD body memory of emotions. Anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of what certain recreational drugs do to the average American male personality know that coke is the equivalent of frat party in south Florida: lots of braggadocio and big talk, but not much performance once you’ve convinced the bubble-headed, tanned blonde to take off her top. Acid, on the other hand, is for the mystic, the searcher, the guy who looks for Buddha in hopes that the Master will peel off the acolyte’s skull and vomit the Bhagavad Gita into his brain. His madness is a spiritual madness, mania, or what the ancient mystics of Greece called “ecstasy.”
The trip of The Bike Trip is both an acid trip, and a trip to Basel, Switzerland to ride the same route that Albert Hofmann took when he was the first human to experience the effects of LSD. But the proof of a story isn’t in the destination, it’s in the journey. When the narrative opens Dockery is in a café on the corner of Haight and Ashbury, mildly dosed on two drops of liquid preserved on a Certs mint that has been sitting in Dockery’s female friend’s underwear drawer for three years. He has made a pilgrimage to the epicenter of the American psychedelic experience, to discover that the only counter-culture left is the culture of selling acid inspired trinkets over a counter. Then a strange family consisting of two kids ages 6 and 3 and a grandfather, all with dreadlocks, come into the café. The six-year-old girl named “Bay Rain” breaks through his disappointment, cynicism and drug-fueled paranoia, and they share a moment of pure recognition.
The next stop is Goa, India, where our emaciated hero is trying to find a clue, but usually only finds the dingy, sad corners of his own search for “authentic” poverty. It’s a common mistake — to think that austerity automatically leads to insight. Then he finds his way to a rave with three drunken Brits (two girls and a guy), and gets dosed by another dreadlocked American dude. His fear melts away as he watches a woman dance a morning prayer to the rising sun.
If fear and overcoming seem like themes so far, they are. Dockery reveals to us that he and his girlfriend, who has given him a special gift for his trip to Basel, are on the verge of breaking up. She loves him fully and unconditionally, but he can’t reciprocate. He has built a wall of psychic defenses whose origins he traces to his parents’ divorce when he was a child, defenses that keep him emotionally aloof. That’s great, he says, when you’re first dating. Ladies are impressed by a man’s unflappable cool. But after a few months they like the flap – sounds like cupid’s wings. She has sent him, alone, to Basel with a perfect reproduction Captain Kirk shirt – the kind from the original TV show – to boldly go where no man has gone before. He jokes that he’s closer to Spock than Kirk. We assume she hopes he’ll find his inner, emotionally expressive captain, the guy who she fell in love with before he crawled into the safety of his emotional bunker.
Once in Basel he makes his last pilgrimage – the bike trip – and I wondered to myself if he would be disappointed when he discovered that Hofmann was just a man and that LSD is just a drug. To be sure, Dockery’s piece is engaging because he is so self-aware of the possibility for disappointment. But disappointment is a destination, and once Dockery finds Hofmann’s house he realizes that enlightenment is the path, not the terminus. He’s still tripping his balls off, but after getting lost in the woods and crushing, amorphous anguish, he comes to some peace with himself and crawls out of his bunker — to share his trip with us.
The text of the play is good, but Dockery’s performance is what makes it really enjoyable. He feels the trip, its memory and texture, onstage. And he takes us with him.
The Bike Trip
The Kraine Theater