Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama How I Learned to Drive, directed by Mark Kamie at the Lee Norvelle Theater and Drama Center, is the story of a girl growing into womanhood in a sexist and abusive home. The story is told through a series of flashbacks in dramatic (but not chronological) order. In between the scenes, a video screen displays sometimes illuminating chapter headings for a tutorial on driving.
Actor Kerry Ipema does a masterly job in the role of Li’l Bit from the first, when the audience has its initial contact with her as a woman of thirty looking back over her difficult life. She is so many women: the whiny teen at the blatantly sexist family table; the object victim of Uncle Peck’s driving lesson; the shattered but resolute college girl; the sexually empty older woman.
Kelly Lusk‘s performance was powerful, too, as he managed to make the predatory Uncle Peck a sympathetic figure. Uncle Peck is, in good part, upright and loving, sobered by virtue of his desire for Li’l Bit. Yet, in Lusks’s interpretation, he is at the same time the victim of the passion that he feels for the young girl. This is a sad figure, who borders on the tragic.
For playwright Paula Vogel, her minor characters are a kind of Greek Chorus. In this production the supporting actors do function chorally, even doing some lovely singing, but each also plays a variety of parts. David Coleman was effective as the crude grandfather, as a short, prankish horny high school student, and later as a virgin faced with his first sexual experience. Anna Rose Heyman played Uncle Peck’s wife, as well as a number of other parts. She takes a very funny turn as a drunk who gets progressively drunker over the course of three lessons on the Southern ladies and alcohol. Rebecca Masur is a stitch as the feisty grandmother, and sympathetic as young Li’l Bit.
How I Learned to Drive is skillfully produced. It is involving, thoughtful, and humane, an often funny and always tensely edgy evening of theater.
- Listen to a preshow interview by WFIU’s George Walker, with director Mark Kamie and actors Kerry Ipema and Kelly Lusk.