BRENDA BARRIE
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How I Learned to Drive

Time Out Chicago
Issue 155 : Feb 14–20, 2008
BY KRIS VIRE

Playwright Paula Vogel’s tricky, Pulitzer-winning 1997 play does something disarming: It presents a sympathetic portrait of a pedophile. The relationship between Li'l Bit and her Uncle Peck upends all expectations; moving back and forth in Li'l Bit’s memory, attacking sweetly and aggressively as memories do, Vogel doesn’t place full blame on any party, instead spreading it among Uncle Peck, the other members of Li'l Bit’s family and Li'l Bit herself.

Reeder’s excellent production is anchored by Barrie’s commanding performance. As both the mercurial central character and the more grounded, adult narrator, Barrie takes Li'l Bit from early adolescence to adulthood with sly confidence. Butts’s nuanced work as the charming, traumatized war veteran Peck makes a worthy match. (Bozzuto, Williamson and particularly Keberlein provide valuable support as the “Greek chorus” portraying every other character.)

Vogel’s unkempt structure makes it difficult for us to pass judgment on this messy situation as quickly and tidily as we’d like; it’s hard to tell, between narrator Li'l Bit and her Uncle Peck, who is the more skilled seducer. Dustin Efird’s spare set design—backed by road signs, automobile parts, pieces of clothing and other insignificant signifiers strung together with twine—combines with Nick Keenan’s tremendous AM-radio sound design to suggest the way a life is remembered in bits and pieces: Memories are triggered by the smell of a blanket or the sound of a Moody Blues song, and can be reassuring and discomfiting at the same time.


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