BWW Review: Thought- Provoking HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE at Syracuse Stage

BWW Review: Thought- Provoking HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE at Syracuse Stage
L-R Karis Danish, Nick LaMedica, Remy Zaken, Madeleine Lambert and Michael Brusasco. Photo by Michael Davis.

Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama of How I Learned to Drive is currently playing at Syracuse Stage in co-production with the Cleveland Play House. Astutely directed by Cleveland Play House Artistic Director Laura Kepley, this edgy, intermission-less 90-minute production is captivating, deeply thought-provoking, and controversial, and showcases the tremendous talents of the cast.

The production in set in 1960's Maryland. Collette Pollard's minimalistic and creative set features a slanting rode coming all the way down from the center of the rafters above the stage and sweeping out onto the main stage. The set adds a wonderful visual element to the production and enhances the story and, more specifically, the memories that are being discussed.

The production centers on Li'l Bit's (Madeline Lambert) memory of "learning to drive," or her adolescent years spent with her family - and especially her uncle - from 1962 and 1969. The memories focus on her intimate relationship with her Uncle Peck (Michael Brusasco). Uncle Peck is a father figure who had been in Li'l Bit's life since she was a baby. He taught Li'l Bit how to drive a car, but when the two were alone in the car, so much more happened and it was not appropriate or good. Li'l Bit - now an adult in her 30s - reflects on the years of sexual abuse that took place between her and her Uncle Peck.

Uncle Peck is brilliantly and passionately portrayed by the talented Michael Brusasco who perfectly captures the creepy and disgusting Uncle with his very intense facial expressions. Madeline Lambert's portrayal of Li'l Bit as a teenager reflects all the insecurities, curiosity, and scrutiny that often fills your teenage years. Lambert makes it clear that Li'l Bit is in a forceful relationship with her uncle. Although she knows what she is getting herself into when she is alone with him, she continues to put herself in those abusive situations. Lambert is captivating and intense as she reflects on the daunting experiences Li'l Bit has with her Uncle Peck. The events still haunt Li'l Bit, but shaped her into the woman she is today.

The supporting cast members comprise a Female Greek Chorus (Karis Danish), Male Greek Chorus (Nick LaMedica), and Teenage Greek Chorus (Remy Zaken). They break some of the tension due to the controversial subject matter and add some much-needed humor, sometimes even breaking into song and performing detailed choreography.

Each portrays multiple characters in L'l Bit's memories. Karis Danish, for example, hilariously portrays Li'l Bit's mother. She lectures her daughter in various monologues about drinking, men, and how a woman protects herself. Danish also plays Uncle Peck's wife and a teenage classmate. Nick LaMedica fabulously and easily steps into the roles of Li'l Bit's Grandpa, a one-night fling that Li'l Bit met on a train, and a vulgar classmate. Remy Zaken portrays Li'l Bit's grandmother, a teenage classmate, and various other roles. She steps in and out of her various roles with such ease, professionalism, and comedic ability.

The supporting cast members also assist in moving various props for the many scene changes that are skillfully packed into the swift-moving production.

In How I Learned to Drive, the talented actors skillfully bring the challenging subject matter of sexual abuse and assault to the forefront in a professional and appropriate way. The play's focus is deep, dark, and controversial, but oh so very relevant.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

How I Learned to Drive runs through April 23, 2017 at the Archbold Theatre at the Syracuse Stage/SU Drama Complex in Syracuse, New York. For tickets and information, call (315) 443-3275 or click here.

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