How I Learned to Drive – Stunning

When many spiders capture a fly, they poison the insect and wrap it in silk for later intermittent consumption. Imagine the fly a sentient child, innocent, impressionable; looking to please. Imagine watching the child “devoured” piece by piece.

Arranged around a set of road rules, How I Learned to Drive consists of non-chronological vignettes depicting the (taken seriously) driving lessons of L’il Bit – a childhood nickname (Mary-Louise Parker) taught by her uncle Peck (David Morse). At 17 “the last day I lived inside my body,” long after she should have had ‘the conversation’ with a caregiver, all L’il Bit has heard are granny’s staunch beliefs that orgasms are make-believe and penetration is horribly painful. Fifty-two year old Peck, married to aunt Mary, is a Marine veteran with subjugated trauma and soft-spoken, gentile manners.

Mary-Louise Parker, David Morse; Johanna Day, David Morse

Over the years, we helplessly watch as Peck inches his way around his niece’s waist, beneath her shirt, then bra, and (not shown) into her panties all the while cooing “Nothing’s gonna happen between us until you want it to.” The adolescent has enough perception to respond, “Someone’s gonna get hurt,” yet is drawn to praise and the opportunity to test her burgeoning allure.

Between, we see them with family, a reflection of the culture in which she’s raised and unwitting participants in collusion. All L’il Bit wants is to get away from the cracker, southern town into which she’s born, yet when she finally does, bourbon sends the girl careening back from a college scholarship to her cloying uncle. Clearly the section called ‘A Mother’s Guide to Drinking’ hasn’t helped. (It’s a helluva piece of writing.)

Alyssa May Gold, David Morse, Mary-Louise Parker, Johanna Day, Chris Myers

Oh, the ties that bind: “I love the smell of your hair…I won’t drink around you, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t…just a peek?.. there’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing…the photos will be private…I want you to have the best…Sometimes the body knows things the mind doesn’t…keep your hands on the wheel…”

L’il Bit learns to drive, but…

A devastating, original play, deft, treacherous, masterfully not without humor.

Twenty-five years ago, Mark Brokaw directed Mary-Louise Parker, David Morse and Johanna Day in Paula Vogel’s jarring, Pulitzer Prize winning play. That the principals tackle it now, especially Parker playing a teenager, requires considerable skill.

Parker (L’il Bit) is astonishing in the economic portrait of a heroine who’s part Lolita testing her sway, part unaware ingénue. The character processes emotion before our eyes. A drunk scene is viscerally right; physical action wonderfully wrapped in small gestures/changes based on a morphing relationship to her body. Parker’s face is worth a thousand words.

Mary-Louise Parker

David Morse (Uncle Peck) is so smooth, calm and seductive while saying all the politically right things, one feels drawn in and vicariously impotent. The actor elicits chills in a gorgeously minimalist performance. Close-up on the spider.

Johanna Day’s speech as Peck’s wife Mary acknowledging her husband’s “peccadillo” is frightening in its grit-teeth rationalization. Day is completely focused, displaying unfathomable though credible complacency.

Added to the cast are Chris Myers and Alyssa May Gold, both not up to playing grandparents, but nicely filling other shoes.

One can only wonder how 25 years has changed director Mark Brokaw’s approach. The nuance with which this horrific story is handled speaks as much to empathy as stage prowess. Timing is impeccable. Characters are assumed and discarded like sweaters. Parker and Morse are riveting.

Original music and sound design by David Van Tieghem in tandem with music direction and vocal arrangements by Stephen Oremus are insidiously evocative without interfering; use of music and sound (chorus) extremely creative.

Rachel Hauck’s set features retro dining chairs and something I could not at the time identify as telephone poles – whose presence I don’t understand.

Sources show that almost 20 percent of American children are victimized by pedophilia. As media has expanded its reach, information about this is more accessible, but so is child porn. Entire organized rings are broken up, materials confiscated. Several day care centers have been ‘collared.’ How much of the 20 percent do you think that covers? What of all the men (it’s commonly men) like Peck who quietly go about their business damaging the lives of kids who don’t speak up out of fear, guilt, or confusion?!

Photos by Jeremy Daniels
Opening: David Morse, Mary-Louise Parker

Manhattan Theatre Club presents
How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street

About Alix Cohen (1288 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.