The Artistic Home: "How I Learned to Drive" a Pulitzer winner with ties to current headlines


Kelley Holcomb (Teenage Greek Chorus), Jenna Steege (Female Greek Chorus) and Elizabeth Birnkrant (L'il Bit) share some stories

How I Learned to Drive, the winner of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize, co-winner of both the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the Lucille Lortel Award for outstanding play, has rolled into The Artistic Home theatre, 1376 W. Grand Ave., as its relevance screams out from current news headlines. 

"The play is a potent and convincing comment on a taboo subject, and its impact sneaks up on its audience," it was succinctly stated in Variety

There is a great deal of humor in this story and it takes a while for the audience to realize playwright Paula Vogel is weaving together episodes of pedophilia and sexual abuse of several multi-generational family members over years. 

The leading character is L’il Bit. She is portrayed amazingly by Elizabeth Birnkrant as she goes from 11 to 18, with a range of emotions, traversing a "special friendship" that turns into a sexual affair with her uncle. Uncle Peck, appearing to be strong and supportive, is eerily played by The Artistic Home co-founder John Mossman. He is a Southern gentleman, recovering alcoholic, with occasional glimpses of frustration, slick yet sensitive in an engaging way, as he masterfully manipulates and grooms his prey. 

Three "Greek Chorus" members fill all the other roles. The family nicknames are explained by L'il Bit as being based on genitalia. 

Peck's wife Mary, who is L'il Bit's mother's sister and L'il Bit's alcoholic mother are interpreted by the Female Greek Chorus, Jenna Steege, who does well with both. As a mother, she seems to have reservations about Peck, but allows her to go off with him, albeit with her "Mother's Guide to Social Drinking." 

In the role of Male Greek Chorus, Reid Coker's primary characters are as the life-long misogynistic grandfather known as "Big Papa" and Cousin BB known as "Blue Balls." Teenage Greek Chorus, Kelley Holcomb, tackles the portrayal of the submissive grandmother, a giggly teen as well as L'il Bit at a different age in one scene. 


L'il Bit and Uncle Peck (John Mossman)

The story begins in a rural Maryland parking lot in 1969 when L'il Bit is 17 and is sitting in Uncle Peck's car. She makes it obvious that his unhooking her bra through her shirt is uncomfortable. He backs off but continues to ogle her as she talks about graduating from high school and going to a classy college in the fall. 

Throughout much of the rest of the play, Peck is the only family member supporting L'il Bit's dream to go to college. He often goes to the line of impropriety in her childhood but backs off always saying that he will do nothing until she is ready. 

Another dialogue with the young boy, Cousin BB, is about a fishing lesson. It implies that Uncle Peck uses this lesson to teach more than fishing techniques as he did with L'il Bit's driving lessons. 

The abuse and dysfunctional behaviors of all the family members is so artfully written and performed, one is transfixed, watching in disbelief at what is really being portrayed. 

At times, the story is confusing because the scenes are not in chronological order. But the way Vogel feeds the audience the story, cloaked in humor, the observer gradually begins to understand how each family member carries a lot of baggage, some as victim, enabler and/or perpetrator. 


Grandmother, Grandfather (Male Greek Chorus, Reid Coker) and L'il Bit

When the full impact of the whole story hits, you are stunned. In the end the reference to "Greek Chorus" seems apropos yet there appears to be hope for L'il Bit as she drives off looking in her rear view mirror. 

With workplace sexual harassment revelations producing the #MeToo movement, Time's person of 2017 being "The Silence Breakers," as well as America's society dancing on the edge of "anything goes," this story and the sensitive professional production directed by Kayla Adams is a timely choice for The Artist Home. 

Twenty some years after she wrote the play, recently Vogel is sharing the enduring lessons about her creation, its relevance to today's changing culture and her life. 

Her play should be seen by all and they should all see it at The Artistic Home. 

The acts of incest and pedophilia are all too often kept as family secrets. Statistics are alarmingly high. If just one family can break their code of silence by seeing this play, it would be worth the price of admission and then some.

As with most of The Artist Home productions, much praise should be given to the entire production team including: Producer, Kathy Scambiatterra; Assistant Director, Alexander McRae; Technical director, Alex Hutson; Stage Manager, Sara Ann Dickey; Scenic and Properties Designer, Kevin Rolfs; Costume Designer, Hailey Rakowiecki; Lighting/Projection Designer, Mark Bracken; Sound Designer and Composer,Zack Berinstein; Graphic Designer, Jenifer Dorman; Casting Director, Kristin Collins, Press Agent, John Olson, Olson Communications; and Dialect Coach, Kathy Logelin. 

This storefront based group produces Broadway quality shows and should be on everyone's list of theatres to support. 

Tickets are now on sale by phone at 866.811.4111 or online through May 6, performances will be Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Photos by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux



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