Review: ‘How I Learned to Drive’ invites contextual discomfort, arouses interest

Story by Ahmad Thomas / Contributing Writer

It was instantly apparent that Middle Tennessee State University’s production of “How I Learned to Drive” wasn’t going to be a typical show.

The intimate setting served as an excellent, possibly intentional mirror to the ironically intimate nature of the play’s content.

The narrator, Lil Bit (played by Dallas Beaudreax), assures the audience that there will be no quarter given: It’s as if the audience is her unsuspecting canvas, upon which she spills her life’s regrets. But just as she’s allowed a blank pad to vent to, her predator uncle begins using her as his arts and crafts project.

Uncle Peck (played by Donovan Hughes) — who earned his nickname by the size and utility of his phallic — is the dreaded character who marries Lil Bit’s aunt, takes her driving, lets her sip his beer and gropes her breasts.

The playwright wastes no time before slapping the audience in the face with the antagonist, delivering a scene in which Peck physically massages the breasts of Lil Bit.

As the story progresses, audience members gradually catch onto the dynamic between the two: a seemingly harmless friendship on the surface with disturbing intentions later revealed. The worst part about it all is how Peck treats the situation. It’s as if he was a schoolboy attempting to court a young mistress.

The acting in the play was simply stunning. The subtle but noticeable accent Hughes employed was consistent, though I cannot be 100 percent sure it was entirely fake. Nevertheless, it was quite convincing. Hughes’ actions, posture, motions and attitudes even fit the part.

Beaudreax’s acting provided an interesting transition from Hughes’ perspectives. The innocent teenager learning her place wore the face of someone forced to discern what’s right and what’s wrong. But she also dropped grenades of insight from her vantage point as a withered middle-aged woman — not withered by time, as she was still in her prime, but rather by experience and the burden she carried deeply in her chest.

There is a lot to be said for how the production chose to differentiate the two.

The members of the chorus, which included Laura Pickard, Blake Holliday and Brianna Smart, also added an interesting edge to the play. Most likely due to the play’s physicality, they gender swapped, which led to exceptionally acting. Overall, each carried their equal share of weight, and that was nice to see throughout the play.

“How I learned to Drive” is not a show for the controversially squeamish playgoer. If you choose not to shy away from touchy subjects, this show is highly recommendable. It is an intimate event that will surely grab your attention in one way or another.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Tayhlor Stephenson, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

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