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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Second Stage


  Kevin Cahoon, Marnie Schulenburg, Norbert Leo Butz, Jennifer Regan, and Elizabeth Reaser/ Ph: Joan Marcus

You would like Uncle Peck a lot. I’m here to say that you might even wish you had an uncle just like him. Really. First off, there’s his voice – a soothing South Carolina drawl. Then there’s his tone – authoritative, kind, comforting.

Partway through the soft-at-the-center revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning How I Learned to Drive, when Peck (Norbert Leo Butz) is teaching his nephew Bobby the fine points of fishing, it’s just plain heartwarming. Peck is the soul of avuncular reassurance and cuddling warmth when sensitive little Bobby (who’s never seen), after landing a pompano, wants to throw the poor creature back.

Never mind that fish – and the audience – aren’t the only things expertly reeled in by the wonderful Butz. There the play itself. Described by its author Paula Vogel as an homage to Lolita, Drive is a dark, rage-filled, generous-spirited and often very funny account of the relationship between Peck and his niece by marriage, Li’l Bit (Elizabeth Reaser). About that relationship: “Pedophile doesn’t mean people who like to bicycle.”

Set mostly in Maryland in the 60s and 70s and narrated by Li’l Bit, who, for the record, is 20 years younger than her uncle, Drive is told out of sequence – memories aren’t such well-ordered things, after all – with a flashback abutting a flash forward, and crucial bits of information coming at us like stealth weapons.

Three actors (Kevin Cahoon, Jennifer Regan and Marnie Schulenburg, all excellent) play assorted members of a lower-middle-class family who have no trouble speaking their minds and also serve as a Greek chorus offering Brechtian-style commentary about the rules of the road.

But let me also acknowledge one more character – her rack jutting out like a pair of headlights, which so mesmerizes Uncle Peck. Let’s just say that Li’l Bit’s name is as inaccurate as it is regrettable. (Reaser is either extraordinarily well endowed or has been helped along by some cunning blow-up device from Victoria’s Secret) In any case, you can’t take your eyes from her chest. It’s a much-needed distraction from her performance.

Li’l Bit veers from 17 years old to 13 to 11, from tormented college freshman to troubled adult, but Reaser fails to make any particular distinction between her character’s ages, to offer much specificity at all. What she seems throughout is awkward and uncomfortable – not awkward and uncomfortable as would befit her character, but awkward and uncomfortable about playing the character. She is tentative rather than committed, which makes it impossible to feel her pain and confusion, to understand the complexity of her connection with her uncle.

Unfortunately, in this particular version of How I Learned to Drive, the pedophile is playing with himself. 


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