How I learned to Drive, Paula Vogel's 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is being revived off-Broadway starring Tony winning Broadway veteran Norbet Leo Butz and "Twilight" star Elizabeth Reaser. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.
With all the cases of child sex abuse in the news lately, a play about an uncle's molestation of his young niece is certainly timely. Yet Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize-winning "How I Learned to Drive" delves much deeper than the headlines, putting a human face on pedophilia. And almost as stunning as the original production was 15 years ago, this latest staging disturbs and entertains in equal measure.
The play centers on Uncle Peck and Li'l Bit as they're called. They are not related by blood, but when we discover the sexual nature of their relationship it's still a jolting revelation.
It's presented as a memory play from Li'l Bit's grownup perspective, jumping back and forth in time. She finds it hard relating to her provincial family in backwoods Maryland. But she's drawn to her uncle who seems, in almost all other respects, the most rational of the bunch.
From age 11 through Li'l Bit's teenage years, their bizarre bond, spent much of the time in Peck's car, offers her the intellectual stimulation that she craves. As Li'l Bit gets older though, the dysfunction becomes too much for her to bear.
Vogel masterfully draws the audience into this grotesque dynamic with great subtlety and bursts of humor. And Kate Whoriskey's sensitive, no-frills direction puts a laser-light focus on the action.
Three actors in multiple roles do fine work but the two principals driving the narrative stand out. With moment to moment honesty, Elizabeth Reaser is especially effective in Li'l Bit's younger years though she doesn't seem quite as engaged playing the damaged adult. Norbert Leo Butz is simply phenomenal as he reveals the sickened soul beneath the monster's skin.
Vogel's writing is organic and free-form, much like the way memory works. It gives the play its own seductive power that is well served by Second Stage's haunting revival.