Theatre Mirror Reviews - "How I Learned to Drive"

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note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Larry Stark

"How I Learned to Drive"

by Paula Vogel
Directed by Dani Duggan

Set Design by Dani Duggan & Gerard Clements
Set Constructed by Gerard Clements
Lighting Design by Greg Jutkiewicz
Assistant to Lighting Designer Zac Mouneimneh
Projection Technology Rose Carlson
Sound Design by Dani Duggan
House Manager Sarah Simons
Co-Producers Danni Duggan/Alex Zielke/Rose Carlson
Assistant Stage Manager Bob Mussett
Stage Manager Louisa Richards

Li'l Bit.............................Alex Zielke
Uncle Peck........................Kevin Ashworth
Female Greek Chorus...Jacquelyn Therieau Stachel
Teenage Greek Chorus............Molly Kimmerling
Male Greek Chorus.................Wayne Fritsche
Voice..............................Samuel DiJune

In "How I Learned to Drive" Paula Vogel has wedded a traditional Sothron sex-obsession with a modern teen-age rite of passage: seeking the freedom coming with a driver's license. Her text is peppered with references --- bald or wittily metaphoric --- to sexual awakening. And if that weren't enough, in the Devanaughn Theatre production Rose Carlson has background projections of classic Vargas pinups and bikini'd bimbo's draped over the shiny fenders of equally classic Cadillacs. Much of the play pretends to be a voice-overed lecture on automotive safety, but the blatant subtexts may embarrass some. And the play is, here, at its best in the darker, older reflections of the second act.

Alex Zielke plays Vogel's central figure as a girl whose pectorals develop faster than her mind. There is a wide-eyed innocence about her Li'l Bit that suggests not teen but pre-teen while the comments from her adult self are so laid-back and amused that she seems never to feel the bite of any pain in her experiences.

Her "driving" instructor, Uncle Peck, is played by Kevin Ashworth --- tall, handsome, perhaps a little younger than the 35 - 45 he admits to. He alludes to an unhappy marriage, to experiences in the Korean War he will not discuss, and to his insistence that "I will never do anything unless you agree to it"; still, his teen-age niece is the only person who understands him and keeps him from alcoholism.

Vogel refers to her ensemble as a "Greek Chorus" but Jacquelyn Therieau Stachel, Molly Kimmerling and Wayne Fritsche play quick-change multi-characters, from horny grampa to too-short dance partner, from showering school-chums to anti-sex grandma, from mom to an advisor on how a woman may drink (and get sloshed) with dignity. These are all shorthand-short, created with a prop or costume and disappearing sometimes seconds later.

Director Dani Duggan has elected to keep Act One light, but the laughs of uneasy recognition boil away in the Second. The approach takes some of the edge off Paula Vogel's fangs.

( a k a larry stark )

"How I Learned to Drive" (1 - 18 February)
"791 Tremont Street" (rear parking-lot entrance) BOSTON MA
1 (866)811-4111

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide