'How I Learned to Drive' is hopeful despite subject matter

By Tom Weber

LANESBORO -- "How I Learned to Drive," which opened last weekend at the Commonweal Theatre Co. in Lanesboro, is not a comfortable play to watch, nor should it be.

Concerning the lessons, driving and otherwise, a young woman known as Li'l Bit learns at the hands, literally, of her Uncle Peck. "How I Learned to Drive" deals forthrightly with the issues of pedophilia, alcoholism, emotional isolation and the resulting cycle of abuse. The play, by Paula Vogel, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

As directed for the Commonweal by Lee Potts, this play is educational as much as it is entertaining. There are laughs galore, and brilliant writing and performances. Ultimately, it is the way in which Vogel is able to shine a bright light upon what we see but rarely recognize that makes "How I Learned to Drive" important and hopeful.


We watch as Harold Cropp portrays Uncle Peck as a creepy, sinister man who turns his own emotional hurt -- "Who did it to you?" Li'l Bit wants to know at the end -- into an immoral and unhealthy relationship with his niece.

The play shows his serious quest beginning with a photo session when Li'l Bit is 11, but indicates his fascination began much earlier.

Peck turns his alcoholism, a disease Li'l Bit has seen up close in her own mother, into a trick to keep Li'l Bit coming back. He promises never to take a drink as long as she does what he wishes. Mirroring his narration of catching a fish, Peck reels Li'l Bit in, gives her line, then reels her in closer.

As Li'l Bit, Adrienne Krocheski has the difficult task of playing a character at various ages from 11 to 34. There is confusion and horror written on her face as Uncle Peck provides a willing ear, thoughtful guidance and, ultimately, what she knows are inappropriate demands.

Eva Barr, Scott Dixon and Stela Burdt play a number of characters, including Li'l Bit's mother, aunt, grandmother and grandfather. It is a family mired in willful ignorance, alcoholism, and verbal and physical abuse.

Barr in particular is chillingly over the top as Li'l Bit's stumbling drunk mother, while the grandmotherly sex education relayed by Burdt's character is designed to frighten rather than inform.

What all of this so plainly imparts is that the circle will be unbroken unless someone -- hopefully,; finally Li'l Bit -- finds a way to name the demon and stare it down.

"How I Learned to Drive" continues at the St. Mane Theater in Lanesboro Thursdays through Sundays through May 12, and then Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through July 6. Talkback sessions, allowing the audience to discuss the issues of the play with the cast, are held following each performance. For ticket information and reservations, call 1-800-657-7025, or visit

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