How I Learned to Drive - Entertaining manipulation

How I Learned To Drive by Paula VogelHow I Learned to Drive
By: Paula Vogel
Where: The Arts Project (203 Dundas)
When: May 18-21st
Cast: Leigh Paylor as Li’l Bit.
John Mckenzie as Uncle Peck(er).
Kerri Tveit as Grandma, school girls, Aunt, voice of 11-year old Bit.
Elaine as mother, school girls.
Cam MacKenzie as Grandfather, Boy on bus, Waiter, Jerome, and Greg.

A friend told me How I Learned to Drive was produced years ago in London. I’m sure that version raised some eyebrows because of the play’s subject matter: sexual abuse. Since I’ve seen five or six plays in the last three years that cover that same territory, I don’t think The Verve Theatre’s version running at The Art’s Project this week will surprise for that reason.

What will surprise is just how darn good the two lead’s performances are working with a script that is brilliant and calculated, manipulating the audience by romanticizing the villain and humanizing the victim.

Or so it appears.

People always ask, how can abuse go on for so long undetected? Why don’t victims disclose? Go see this play and you’ll find out!

But I’d also go for, as I stated above, the performances of Leigh Paylor as Li’l Bit and John McKenzie and Uncle Peck(er). I think you can figure out who is who from those character names. I’ve never seen a better performance by a female portraying a survivor. Paylor conveys limitless emotions during the show – no stereotypical, paint-by-number victim characterization here. McKenzie matches her every step of the way by underplaying the pervert. It seems odd calling him that after watching the poor old sod, er, Peck(er) just trying to get some....“lovin.” McKenzie has never been better.

The team at The Verve Theatre directs themselves and each other. (Not like that doesn’t happen in other companies...LOL but I believe they are the only ones who admit it!) It is risky but here it works for the most part. The choice to minimalize the set worked wonderfully. I liked being able to concentrate on the performances and the language of the play. The choice in music was well thought out. The lighting was effective but just a couple of times I was distracted as when a single character on stage walked out of the light while speaking to get a chair. Since the actors often moved props or set pieces without pulling focus, it would have been better to have an actor bring the chair to the performer so that the audience never is distracted.

The supporting cast were wonderful playing a variety of roles. Kerri Tveit and Cam MacKenzie are terrific character actors, slipping in and out of multiple characters with ease. Elaine Goving had some good moments as Li’l Bit’s mother at the table when she didn’t have to face the audience head on. A shot of confidence is what this doctor orders for her delivering dialogue facing the audience. I’m sure that will improve as the run continues.

How I Learned To Drive effectively educates and entertains its audience on the subject of sexual abuse. Sounds like an oxymoron but I believe that’s the only way an audience will test out this “Drive.”

I’m glad I did!

(Out of 4)

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Sol Clay.
The Arts Project - Theatre