The other day, just as I was coming up from the subway at Manhattan’s Herald Square, a Hasidic man in full attire — long coat and broad-brimmed hat, in 95 degree heat — rode right past me on a blue CitiBike. I kicked myself for not having a camera at the ready; it was a perfect example of a Hasid doing his thing without concern for the petty politics of his leaders. It was only later that I realized the timeliness of it: I was on my way to see the play “Division Avenue,” which is set against the backdrop of Hasidim vs. bicyclists in Williamsburg, and the political circus that has sprung up in recent years over the issue.
“Division Avenue,” written by Miki Bone and directed by Dean Nolen and produced at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, is about bicycles, but more importantly, it’s about a community that has lived more than a half century comfortably cloistered in its tiny New York City enclave of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, only to be encroached upon, through the ‘90s and aughts, first physically, by hipsterdom and gentrification, and then virtually, by the Internet and DVDs and smartphones.
The play’s central character is Efraim (played by Jordan Feltner), a Satmar Hasidic widower in his 20s who is in the midst of leaving his community after a personal crisis of faith. He meets Sarah (Mary Rasmussen), a Texan transplant, avid cyclist and social worker. A romance develops, and Sarah soon takes on the role of coach, guiding Efraim’s tentative steps outside his sheltered world.
In the meantime, Efraim’s father, Moishe, played exceptionally by Mitch Greenberg, hires Dean (Colby Lane Chambers), a local civil rights attorney, to file a lawsuit against bicyclists who clandestinely repaint bike lanes along Williamsburg streets.
Dean, who is gay and Baptist and Texan (all of which Moishe knows: “I googled you”), had a boyfriend who died in a bicycle accident, and so is now hostile to cyclists, and sympathetic to the Satmars. He too thinks bicycles are dangerous, although the Satmars are opposed for different reasons: They fear the outside influences bike lanes bring — immodest attire and disruptions in traffic patterns and, most importantly, a reminder that they can no longer keep outsiders on the outside.