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THEATER REVIEW How I Learned to Drive
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2018-04-04

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Throughout the ages, love obsessive, forbidden and/or undying has been exalted in Romantic literature. Pity the man who pledges his heart to a damsel herself little more than a child, however. ( Before you go "Eeew," remember that this category includes Edgar Allen Poe, Lewis Carroll and Elvis Presley. ) Not only must he suffer the censure of society and, in many instances, the law, but his devotion is doomed to end in disaster and ruin. Little girls don't remain little girls, you see, but grow into adult women, who leave youthful companions to follow their own path.

Paula Vogel's memory-play makes a fair case for the illicit attraction of Li'l Bit and her uncle-by-marriage Peck: Their immediate kin's social values reflect the barnyard culture still indigenous to the Southern United States in the early '60s, making the favored topic of conversation at holiday gatherings the progress of the clan's procreative capabilities. When the womenfolk exchange confidences, there is general agreement that males are selfish rutting animals to be repelled by any means necessary and copulation, an excruciation to be endured. In such a tribal environment, is it any wonder that a smart, mature adolescent and a shy, self-effacing war veteran should find solace in each other's company?

This attitude represents a paradigm shift on the popular image of pedophiles as rapacious bullies ripping teddy bears from victims' arms before consigning their prey to a fate worse than death. Nowadays, we confer heroic status on penitents striving to atone for gender-linked misbehavior, but in 1997, Vogel's courage lay in her willingness to explore the extenuating complexities of this elusive dynamic—the ambiguity of legal prohibitions regarding age of consent, the collusion of family members in promoting a preoccupation with erotic pursuits to the exclusion of the benevolent aspects frequently augmenting intergenerational companionships.

Yes, but how do audiences in 2018 suppress their horror and repugnance for the 90 minutes required for the star-crossed fugitives—played with unbiased compassion by Elizabeth Birnkrant and John Mossman under the direction of Kayla Adams—to arrive at their inevitable parting of ways? The Artistic Home never crosses the line into gratuitous vulgarity, instead invoking a purview that, while undeniably disapproving, opens the way to a wider understanding of the aberrant conduct under scrutiny.


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