Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Entirely Resonant, Years Down the Road: 'How I Learned to Drive' Provides a Haunting Look at Adolescence and Abuse -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

How I Learned to Drive
a play by Paula Vogel
directed by Cody Estle
Raven Theatre, Chicago
Thru March 24

Paula Vogel's powerful play, How I Learned to Drive, opened off Broadway in 1997 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama the following year.

Based on my first encounter with this work, presently at Chicago's erstwhile Raven Theater, it's easy to understand the acclimation.

The play, production--under the direction of Raven artistic director Cody Estle--and performances are all excellent.

And the contemporary resonance of How I Learned to Drive could hardly be more striking.

So this is certainly a recommendation that you avail yourself of Raven's reasonable pricing--or discounts on HotTix, Goldstar and TodayTix--and see this show.

But I think it best to keep this review rather brief, so as to let you attend without quite knowing too much of what unfolds.

I'll even be intentionally circumspect in the photos I include here, even though I was officially provided some that could divulge a good bit more.

As the play's difficult subject matter can--and really should--make some audience members uncomfortable, I feel I should note that How I Learned to Drive is not a glib recollection of driver's ed or the joys of teenage exploration.

Presented non-linearly across several episodes taking place mostly in the 1960s, the play centers around a young woman nicknamed Li'l Bit, well-played by Eliza Stoughton.

The other actors in the play represent Li'l Bit's relatives, including the always stellar Mark Ulrich as Uncle Peck, Kathryn Acosta as her mom/others, Katherine Bourne Taylor as her grandma/others and Julian Hester as her grandpa/others.

Avoiding specifics, let's just say that Li'l Bit faces a whole lot of ugliness, and even vileness, from her family members, some far worse than others.

There's clearly a reason Raven programmed this show in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

And that's where I think I'll leave it.

I didn't find it quite perfect, but How I Learned to Drive is superb.

Not to mention disquieting and haunting.

Which is why it is quite worth your time and attention.  

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