Tuesday, November 8, 2011

HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE • Muddy Waters Theatre

Muddy Waters closes their 2011 season with Paula Vogel's 1998 Pulitzer Prize winning comedic drama, HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE.  Vogel's incredible script deals with some very unfunny things -- incest, alcoholism, pedophilia -- but it's also packed with humor and surprisingly manages to draw out some unexpected pathos.  Maybe that's why it won the Pulitzer.

L'il Bit (Laurie McConnell) serves as the narrator for much of the play, recalling driving lessons with her Uncle Peck (B. Weller).  With a family who gives each other nicknames for their genital characteristics, having an Uncle "Peck" can only mean one thing…  Peck is a war vet and recovering alcoholic, and it's during these driving lessons that he starts molesting L'il Bit, starting from the time when she was 11 years old.  These encounters continued until L'il Bit was 18.  Through these years, we not only learn about Peck's less than savory inclinations, but also about how these moments on the road are some of the only times in her life when L'il Bit feels able to enjoy a feeling of control -- when she's behind the wheel, driving.  Trapped within her suburban Maryland family, L'il Bit revels in these driving lessons with her Uncle, but as she approaches the legal age of 18, and she's receiving letters from Uncle Peck (also anxiously counting down the days till her 18th birthday -- when he hopes to fully seduce her),  L'il Bit truly takes control, and puts an end to their trysts.

B. Weller (Uncle Peck)
and Laurie McConnell (L'il Bit).
Photo credit: Jerry McAdams
L'il Bit and Uncle Peck are both "black sheeps" of the family in some regard -- feeling like they don't quite fit in.  During the course of the evening, we also hear from L'il Bit's family, the Greek chorus, sometimes playing multiple roles, who flesh out the particulars of L'il Bit's home life.  There's her Aunt Mary, Peck's wife (Kimberly D. Sansone), who suspects something is going on but chooses to ignore it, and would just like her husband back.  Her mom (Kimberly D. Sansone), comically fills us in on the ABC's of social drinking for women, (wish I'd had that lesson...) and L'il Bit's grandmother (Denise Saylor), who is set on telling L'il Bit that sex hurts like hell -- unless you're married, along with L'il Bit's grandfather (Michael Brightman), who serves as the chauvinistic male who expects sex how he wants it, when he wants it.

Laurie McConnell navigates the duties as narrator and participant with great skill, and B. Weller's Uncle Peck was understated but surprisingly heart-breaking.  The Greek chorus was also quite cohesive, and Milt Zoth's skillful and savvy direction evokes the most out of this play.  Thoughtful projections by Michael B. Perkins add to the subtext, and the costumes (Theresa Loebl) and set (Cristie Johnston) were simple but quite effective.  Jim Wulfsong's low and provocative lighting along with sound design by Jerry McAdams, also play a part in this show's success.

Michael Brightman (Male Chorus),
Denise Saylor (Female Chorus),
Kimberly D. Sansone (Female Chorus),
Laurie McConnell (L'il Bit)
and B. Weller (Uncle Peck).
Photo credit: Jerry McAdams
Again, as disturbing as it may sound, this play is also very funny.  It's worth checking out.  Just buckle up…


Written by Paula Vogel
Directed by Milt Zoth
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through November 20 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Laurie McConnell* (L'il Bit), B. Weller (Uncle Peck), Michael Brightman (Male Chorus), Kimberly D. Sansone (Female Chorus) and Denise Saylor (Female Chorus).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Cristie Johnston; lighting design by Jim Wulfsong; costume design by Theresa Loebl; sound design by Jerry McAdams; choreography by Cindy Duggan; projections by Michael B. Perkins; stage manager, Lydia Crandall.

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