The emotionally scarring, horrific, and twisted How I Learned to Drive, is being revived by Second Stage Theatre. On the roads of Maryland, a man, Uncle Peck (Norbert Leo Butz), falls in love with his eleven year old niece-in-law, Li’l Bit (Elizabeth Reaser), and blurs the lines between right and wrong as he gives her driving lessons.
The situation becomes more and more uncomfortable as Uncle Peck acts on his infatuation with Li’l Bit by pressuring her into moonlit car rides and a risqué photography session. Li’l Bit’s narration runs from early childhood to young adulthood in choppy sequences that reflect her inner turmoil, her confusion between what is right and wrong, what is love, and what is pedophilia.
Butz shines as the uncle who wants to believe his love is “okay,” that he isn’t doing anything wrong. He plays it so well that he entices some pity for his horrifying character. It’s hard to remember that Li’l Bit is only seventeen because Reaser is obviously older, which takes away from the severity of Uncle Pec’s actions. In addition, she maintains an impeccable but unfortunately consistent pouty, whiny, charming, attitude of a young teenager; but without growing and changing Reaser skips over Li’l Bit’s pre-teen awkwardness and college young adult sophistication.
The depth of Paula Vogel playwriting is apparent in the complexity of her characters. By splitting the narrative in non-sequential pieces the audience gets a chance to view Li’l Bit’s relationship with her family and kids at school, and Peck’s description through his wife’s eyes through a wonderful trio of supporting actors, spectacularly directed by Kate Whoriskey.
This play captures and directs attention to important moral issues, often taboo within society. In spite of the bumpy ride, How I Learned to Drive successfully tells a provocative story.