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Review Roundup: HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE

Second Stage Theatre's opened Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, directed by Kate Whoriskey and starring Norbert Leo Butz and Elizabeth Reaser, last night, February 13. 

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE explores the complex relationship between Li'l Bit (Elizabeth Reaser) and her Uncle Peck (Norbert Leo Butz), as a series of driving lessons progresses from innocence to something much darker. Paula Vogel's acclaimed play is returning to New York City for the first time since its world premiere 15 years ago. The production also features Kwvin Cahoon, Jennifer Regan, and Marnie Schulenburg.

For tickets and more information visit www.2ST.com.

Ben Brantley, New York TimesThe play is steeped in a gentle lyricism we associate with nostalgic portraits of American youth. The tone, the setting, the characters seem at first so familiar, so, well, normal, that it’s only by degrees that we sense the poison within the pastels. By then we feel both locked into, and complicit with, this portrait of a warping relationship. That’s the art of ,“Drive.” It is also the art plied so effectively by Uncle Peck (Mr. Butz), who knows how to make sex between a grown-up and a minor feel as homey as a Norman Rockwell painting.

Jeremy Gerard, BloombergReaser and Butz are superb as a girl whose trusting nature is inexorably destroyed by an unrepentant, methodical predator. Director Kate Whoriskey seems unconcerned with developing any sympathy for a pedophile. That’s probably as it should be, even if it’s slightly less interesting than a more complex reading.

Mark Kennedy, Associated PressThe production, to use its central metaphor, never really gets out of neutral. It centers on the troubling relationship between a teenager called Li'l Bit and her 40-something uncle nicknamed Uncle Peck, who both teaches her to drive and molests her over a series of scenes that skip forward and back in time, highlighting the unreliable nature of memory and affection

Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News: Butz, known for antic Tony-winning star turns in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Catch Me If You Can,” is low-key and light as Uncle Peck. He makes what might be creepy into something charming, almost (but not quite) sympathetic. Reaser (Esme in “Twilight”) makes a strong impression in her first stage role since a downtown “Winter’s Tale” in 2003.

Linda Winer, NewsdayBut Norbert Leo Butz (best known for his Tony-winning musical breakouts) plays Uncle Peck with enormous openhearted duplicity -- a sad, cute, nerdy man not above preying on even more vulnerable relatives than his wife's niece. And Elizabeth Reaser (the matriarch in the "Twilight" movies) convincingly toggles between big-breasted, tight-jean pubescent curiosity and toughened maturity as Li'l Bit, who begins her story by saying to us, "Sometimes to tell a secret you have to teach a lesson."

Frank Scheck, NY PostThe casting is another problem, especially for those lucky enough to have seen the sublime David Morse and Mary Louise-Parker in the original production. Morse brought a casual seductive charm to Uncle Peck that made his allure to his underage niece (by marriage) all the more insidious. Butz movingly conveys the character’s alcoholic despair, but he seems too creepy. And Reaser, while certainly embodying Li’l Bit’s physical ripeness, is more effective at depicting her wounded innocence than the precocious slyness that leads her aunt to comment that she “knows exactly what she’s doing.”

Matt Windman, amNYReaser, who is best known for playing Esme Cullen in the "Twilight" films, gives an alluring turn that captures both Li'l Bit's uneasy discomfort in her youth and her maturity as an adult. Although the play has no nudity, Reaser's chest is certainly accentuated under her sweater.

Robert Feldberg, NorthJersey.comUnder the taut direction of Kate Whoriskey, the 90-minute work moves swiftly, but not without putting the audience through agonies of anticipation in the scenes between Li'l Bit and Peck. "How I Learned To Drive" is not a play you leave behind when you walk out of the theater.


 

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