The Artistic Home’s Production of How I Learned to Drive
As we walk into the theatre we can’t help but notice the bare staging areas. The small platform that greets us as we walk in, the giant platform with three stairs, a table set off in a corner under a gigantic bare bulb give a vague sense that maybe this isn’t a current realistic play..This play doesn’t require a lot in the way of props and set because the action shifts around a lot and the actors need freedom of movement to seamlessly transition into the each scene. The uneven and slanted platforms will be plenty for the trip down memory lane.
Another design element worth noting is the music softly inviting us to go back to the 60’s. It’s just barely loud enough to be heard but already gives us glimpses into what we’re about to see. As the soft pre-show lighting begins to dim and quiet falls over the audience, we get the impression that this is going to be a show that stays with us.
Shifting into First Gear
As Lil Bit (Elizabeth Birnkrant) leaves the smaller platform to join Peck (John Mossman) during her first monologue, it’s already clear that some of the audience doesn’t know what this play is about. The laughs and chuckles coming from the viewers turn quickly into silence and gasps and it comes out that the older man asking to take the teenager’s bra off is her uncle. This is where the play truly begins and where the audience stops being comfortable.
As the scene dissolves and Lil Bit starts her second monologue leading into a family scene, the pair are joined by the chorus (Kelley Holcomb, Reid Coker, Jenna Steege) in a very smooth transition. The old-fashioned dining table from the corner moves downstage as the ensemble gathers around and we begin to explore the family dynamics that led to the moment in the first scene of the play. The group earns some chuckles here but it’s not the same as it was before the early revelation of incest.
Defensive Driving 101
This production works on a few levels. It’s a love letter to a simpler time via music and setting, it’s an evocative memory play that celebrates its theatricality, and it challenges the audience to think as we take these twists and turns with Lil Bit. As she tells her truth while also maintaining loads of sympathy for her uncle, we’re taken along with her on this confusing ride until we’re also conflicted about which of her family members deserve how much blame for allowing this relationship to happen in their kitchens, driveways, and and during holiday meals. This script isn’t easy on audiences and this production doesn’t let you skip out and forget it over post-show cocktails. Instead we find ourselves discovering meaning in lines we thought unimportant, and getting the reason certain jokes felt weird to laugh at during the show.
Is This Play for You?
This play delves into dark topics but is a superb script that is handled quite well by this company. Even the most casual theatre-goer will be intrigued by how this heavy subject is handled and will find themselves grasping at the lighter moments. Be prepared for the emotional roller coaster.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theater in Chicago
Through May 6, 2018
Thursdays at 7:30 pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Sundays at 3:00 pm
The Artistic Home
1376 W. Grand Ave.
Chicago, IL 60642
Sara Ann Dickey
Sharai Bohannon is a playwright, and an avid theatre practitioner, who is very excited to write about most things but especially Chicago Theatre. She has a background in journalism and technical theatre and is excited that those degrees will be put to use in a way that gives her an excuse to leave her couch and brave this “outside” that people keep telling her about. When not on her couch watching TV, she can be found working one of her multiple jobs and/or hunting down a happy hour near you. Read some of Sharai Bohannon’s New Works on New Play Exchange.