by Irena Syrokomla
How I Learned to Drive at The Theatre & Company
Paula Vogel’s play How I Learned to Drive was the
winner of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for drama .It is a difficult play
restricted to an audience aged 16 or over. The director Stuart Scadron-Wattles
has chosen this play dealing with a subject not much mentioned or publicly
presented: incest, how it occurs and develops in a typical family, step by
step, line by line, and gradually involves in the play, - not only the
actors but the audience as well.
background is so classic, family gatherings, grandma and grandpa functioning
in the background like a Greek chorus, an aunt making comments on how a
young girl should act, an uncle struggling with his alcoholism, a young girl
for whom no one has time. The lonesome girl is willing to offer
companionship and attention to the uncle, who begins to struggle with his
sexual feelings for her, each of them playing a game of " setting the
limits" and " there is nothing wrong" and " it is our secret". Uncle Peck’s
part is acted by Richard Quesnel, seductive, manipulating, persuasive, at
the same time gentle, a so well known type. The part of the girl, Li’l Bit
is played by Carly Street, confused with her own budding sexuality, curious,
frightened, in many moments torn between her defensive instincts and social
requirements to be polite to an authority figure, to behave as told and not
to offend an adult family member. What is happening in front of our eyes is
so familiar, a game of double-meanings, layers of socially acceptable
behaviour, little secrets, good-intentions, roads leading to one of the most
disgusting family secrets: how incest develops, how is it possible, who is
the instigator, is the victim simply a victim, or is it all more complex
than that. At the end of the play the audience sits in dead silence – we all
know uncles and young girls just like them, they live among us, or do we?
The play accomplishes still more: it makes us question the
norms and values of the society, how do we treat little girls, and how do we
teach them to behave, what do we encourage, what do we praise and then
accept. How blind are we to affections between uncles and nieces,
stepfathers and stepdaughters, family friends and young girls. Are they all
unhealthy and dangerous? How can we tell? Or in our own insecurity not to
offend anyone, not to imply the unspeakable, we rather stay silent and
blind? In the society where little girls are dressed up in sexually
provocative costumes, taught how to move their hips in dance, encouraged to
compete in beauty contests, eager parents wishing them to be like Jon Benet
Ramsay – why are we surprised that adult males find them sexually
attractive? Why are we outraged at the increasing trend in pedophilia and
Internet porno-sites showing young children – aren’t we all, as a society,
allowing and even adding to it?
It is a difficult play. It is a difficult subject. At the
opening night the house was full, the audience showing appreciation for
deeper subjects and better theatre. The snacks provided by Art Bar in
the foyer were delicious. How I Learned to Drive is running at
Theatre & Company downtown Kitchener till April 17. Box office number is
Man of La Mancha at The Waterloo Stage Theatre.
For the uptown Waterloo theatre Man of La Mancha, as
directed by Lezlie Wade, is a large and ambitious production. It is a
musical engaging a total of 17 actors/singers plus a 4 piece live band.
Having a live band makes it much more pleasant than it would have been with
canned music. The stage setting (by Stephen Degenstein) is quite elaborate
and, if I am not mistaken, the theatre is equipped with a professional voice
support system. Thank God and modern technology for that! Costumes by
Traudie Kauntz Rea are also pretty amazing and fit the historical period.
story – or rather two stories told on two levels – is that of Miquel de
Cervantes, a poet by vocation and tax collector by trade, who is imprisoned
at the time of the Spanish Inquisition for being too diligent in his job and
foreclosing on a church. While in jail awaiting his fate he and his servant
are being set up for a mock trial by other prisoners determined to rob him
of his few possessions. In order to defend himself he proposes to act out
his story of an errant knight Don Quixote de la Mancha. The story of his
fantasies and madness, initially naïve and laughable, gradually develops
into a world of its own, grabbing the audience and carrying everyone through
to the final conclusion. The well-known melody of " The Impossible Dream"
and other songs tug at your heart, so well known, thankfully so well
performed and coming alive in this production.
Christopher Wilson is a dream come true in the role of
Cervantes/Don Quixote with his operatic trained voice and powerful presence.
I have always found it amazing that the actors are expected to possess
voices and sing some of their roles. In this production all of the leading
voices are amazing, professionally trained, others worth mentioning in this
limited space are Andrew Scanlon as Sancho Panza, Theresa Noon as Aldonza/Dulcinea
and Allan Gillespie as Padre.
The theatre was sold out to the last seat and the bar
stools. The audience was appreciative and offered a standing ovation. What
can I say, the theatre is coming into its own, the production team has
matured and is capable of putting together a really good play, more than
four actor comedies. Good luck in the future and let us know your plans for
the next season!
We are really lucky to have two good professional and
affordable theatres staging plays through the winter and entertaining us
year after year.