August 3, 1998
REVIEW: Intiman's 'Drive' is a thought-provoking drama
by Deborah Stone
Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel's drama, "How I Learned to Drive," is currently playing with critical acclaim at Intiman Theatre. It is a touching, thought-provoking and rewarding piece of theatre that tackles the tough subject of incestuous sexual abuse.
The show takes place over an eight-year period of time in the relationship between a fatherless young girl, Li'l Bit, played with the right amount of vulnerability and yearning by actress Mary Mara and her very attentive Uncle Peck, portrayed with southern gentlemanly charm by well-known film actor Brian Kerwin.
Li'l Bit is coming of age in suburban Maryland in the 60s, surrounded by a family which is cruelly insensitive to her adolescent needs. Their raunchy, sexually crude humor and double messages prey upon Li'l Bit's insecurities and self-doubts, which further her own confusion about the mysteries of life.
Puberty is a difficult time for any adolescent, and for Li'l Bit it is complicated by a dysfunctional family, taunting peers at school and the lack of an appropriate role model.
She responds to her Uncle Peck's devoted attention out of a need to feel loved and understood. He patiently listens to her, empathizes with her problems and talks on her level. While teaching her how to drive down backcountry roads, he gradually grooms her to participate in his sexual fantasies, offering false assurances that what they're doing is "special" and not shameful.
What is chilling about this play is Kerwin's ability to elicit sympathy for his character's own inner pain and desperation, even though it is clear that his actions are utterly reprehensible. The audience understands how Li'l Bit can submit to Peck's manipulations because he comes across as such a likeable, warm man who sincerely cares about her. She is lonely, curious and needy and responds to this love, even though it becomes apparent to her that it is not the right kind of love.
The consequences that follow this relationship haunt both predator and victim in the years to come. As an adult, Li'l Bit's memories darken as she explores what really happened between her and Uncle Peck.
Both Mara and Kerwin are talented, gifted actors who bring passion and compassion to their roles. Audiences are left with the unsettling message that this troubling subject is not always black and white, that many areas of nebulous gray exist. Opportunities for dialogue between the audience and members of the cast are presented with a post-play discussion following each performance of "How I Learned to Drive." The show runs through August 16th.
For ticket information call 206-269-1900.