How I Learned To Drive last night (no spoilers)
Posted by: ablankpage 12:03 pm EDT 05/11/22

I can't believe it's been 25 years (!!!) but it was wonderful to see the play again last night with 3/5 of the original cast intact. Even after such a long time, I have vivid memories of Mary Louise Parker and David Morse giving masterful performances in 1997. Some pros and cons that came to mind on my way home:

- I actually felt that the play worked better with the two leads more advanced in age. They both read much younger onstage than their actual ages, but the added time and maturity enhanced the resonance of the memory play—it probably also helps that their performances have had 25 years to deepen and marinate.
- Johanna Day should have been nominated for a Tony! It's a crowded year, but she so masterfully balances the humor (especially during the drinking guide) and sadness (especially as Peck's wife) of the role. I felt like she was as central to the play as the two leads.
- I can't remember every detail from 1997, but somehow this production felt more hectic and frenetic than the original. It might be that stagecraft technology has come a long way and director Mark Brokaw has really leaned into that here. But I also remember the interjections from the "chorus" feeling smoother and more of a piece. This felt like a swirl of action each time before settling into the scene.
- I do remember a young Michael Showalter and Kerry O'Malley handling the two chorus roles a little better than the current Chris Myers and Alyssa May Gold, who feel very young even when playing old. No spoilers, but I forgot how the final flashback was played and it hit just as hard.
- It was interesting to see all the ways this play subtly or overtly changed American theater (helped by Paula Vogel's career as a professor). So many theatrical devices, structural elements, and plot beats felt unique and revolutionary in 1997, but feel so naturally part of playwriting almost three decades later.
- The key moments (the fishing, photography, and hotel scenes) still had my heart racing. Good writing is good writing is good writing.

In terms of Tonys, I think it's very likely the play will win Best Revival as a way to award Paula Vogel's career. Having seen all the performances in the acting categories, I think this is Mary Louise Parker's to lose (Deirdre O'Connell would be my vote, but I think her performance is a bit of a dark horse having closed in November) and David Morse stands a good chance if The Lehman Trilogy trio split votes.

It's unfortunately only running until the end of the month, so go see it if you've been on the fence or haven't had the chance! I think it's been pretty consistently available on the usual discounted sites.

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