5 Reasons Why How I Learned to Drive is Still an Important Lesson
By Iris Wiener
May 18, 2022: At its core it’s a play about child abuse, despite a number of fantastic metaphors and well-placed bits of humor. It encompasses gut-wrenching subject matter that still needs to be told, but thankfully it’s done extraordinarily well in its current production. Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer-winning play follows a woman (Mary-Louise Parker) coming to terms with a sexually abusive uncle (David Morse). The story is told through flashbacks and reunites the original cast and director (Mark Brokaw) from its 1997 Off-Broadway premiere. There is a tremendous wealth of spot-on choices from which to learn in this impeccable piece of theater.
- Parker tells the story from various vantage points at a number of ages. It’s not only her gripping performance that immediately takes the audience by storm; as Li’l Bit, a middle-aged woman who must narrate her upsetting relationship with her Uncle Peck, she is acute and funny- instantly someone for whom audiences will care. This is Li’l Bit’s story, but it is Parker’s show from its first moment.
- The Greek chorus is remarkable, acting as the wheels that help this story turn. Johanna Day (who was also in the original production), Alyssa May Gold and Chris Myers portray everyone from classmates, family members and other markers who move in and out of Li’l Bit’s life. Gold is especially adept at transformation, playing an 11-year old girl and a childish, toxic grandmother, amongst other damaging (or damaged) characters. Day is also exceptional, and her lesson in how women should maintain self-control is one that will remain with audiences long after the play.
- Rachel Hauck’s minimal set is as intelligent as it is bare (even the car is simply a pair of chairs). Drive consists of a bent telephone pole placed before three video panels, laid forth to invite audiences for a study of Li’l Bit’s psyche. Adorned with Mark McCullough’s crayon-colored design, it allows for the imagination to reflect on the colorful ideas of a child stripped away by a monster.
- Revivals are rarely as poignant and powerful as the original productions. Manhattan Theatre Club’s mounting proves this adage false with exceptional choices on all fronts, including hiring Brokaw to tackle the same piece years later with a sentimental and learned approach.
- Vogel’s writing not only holds up in 2022, but the intricacies with which she built Li’l Bit’s and Uncle Peck’s relationship is incredible to witness. She managed to make a child pornographer and molester slightly likable, and at times audiences find themselves falling for Morse’s outstanding charm right along with Li’l Bit. Morse is as chilling as he is charismatic, and it will be difficult to see anyone take on Peck’s character in future iterations. The script never fails its actors, and vice versa.
How I Learned to Drive
Manhattan Theater Club at Samuel J. Friedman Theater
261 W. 47th St., NYC.
Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time: one hour and 40 mins. with no intermission. $79—$299. www.telecharge.com. April 19—May 29.
Photography: Jeremy Daniel