Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


How I Learned to Drive
The Custom Made Theatre Co.
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's review of Back from Iraq and Patrick's review of Rumors


Amanda Farbstein and Eric Reid
Photo by Jay Yamada
The Custom Made Theatre Co. is presenting Paula Vogel's 1998 Pulitzer Prizing wining play How I Learned to Drive, directed by Katja Rivera. I first saw this drama in the Off-Broadway premiere production at the Vineyard Theatre with Mary Louise Parker performing Li'l Bit and David Morse playing Uncle Peck. The last time I saw a production was at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles with Molly Ringwald and Brian Kerwin.

Vogel has said that How I Learned to Drive was inspired by Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita," written from Lolita's view. The 90-minute play's structure is outstanding, with a Greek Chorus providing expressions that relate to the scenes, such as "Safety first—You and Driver education," "Shifting Forward from First to Second Gear," and "You and the Reverse Gear."

The playwright has accomplished the seemingly impossible—a story about a pedophile that is funny while being disturbing. The plot, without revealing any spoilers, recounts the relationship between a young girl from a tightly knit lower-middle-class family and her uncle by marriage. The action moves back and forth between scenes set the 1960s and '70s in the same scattered manner as the aching memories of Li'l Bit.

As Li'l Bit and Uncle Peck Amanda Farbstein and Eric Reid lead with brilliant performances. Farbstein's Li'l Bit plays her own cards by being knowingly seductive, spurred by her scheming, eerie uncle. ("Nothing is going to happen between us—until you want it to" he tells her at several stages of her puberty.) Reid exudes an understated smarminess that makes you want to smack him just to erase the grin from his face. David Schiller, Valerie Fachman and Gianna DiGregorio Rivera form the narrating chorus and play various other roles, giving superb performances.

How I Learned to Drive plays through October 7, 2017, at the Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter St. San Francisco. Tickets to had at www.custommade.org. Their next production will be The Lion In Winter opening on November 2 and running to December 2


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