Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive has finally gotten the Broadway run it deserves 25 years after it first opened Off-Broadway, with the same two leads (Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse), director (Mark Brokaw) and one of its original chorus members (Johanna Day) along for the ride. The performances from Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse left critics absolutely agog and (unlike some other recent revivals) sure that the Pulitzer Prize-winning memory play has stood the test of time — finding it as important, complex and shocking as ever.
New York Times Review of How I Learned to Drive
It’s rare to encounter the kind of breathless silence I experienced during an unnerving hotel room scene in the unforgettable revival of Paula Vogel’s “How I Learned to Drive.” On the night I saw the production, hundreds of audience members listened with rapt attention — I didn’t hear anyone unwrap a mint or fumble for a tissue. I didn’t even hear a whisper break the stillness in the air. There was just the steady buzz of the lights, suddenly deafeningly loud, as if they were performing their own monologue. If I could direct a scene representing why I love theater, it would look something like this: Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse delivering crushing performances — both sentimental and horrific, utterly complex — of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play to an enthralled audience. That the performances were so palpable, at least, wasn’t a surprise; the two already had the play in their bones, having originated the roles Off Broadway in 1997. Mark Brokaw, who directed them 25 years ago, and the actress Johanna Day, have also returned for this overdue Broadway debut.
Deadline Review of How I Learned to Drive
In the 25 years since Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse first performed Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play How I Learned To Drive, the name for the disturbing process that we witness being depicted on stage has long since entered widespread usage. If audiences can now readily label what happens as “grooming,” Vogel’s emotionally complex masterwork remains as unsettling, disarmingly funny and as deeply moving as ever. Parker and Morse, so beautifully playing the roles they originated all those years ago under the same director, Mark Brokaw, fill the larger Broadway stage – the 1997 production was produced Off Broadway – with performances not so much expanded but deepened by time. Parker’s character, in particular, is intensified by the years, as if the burden of her childhood victimization has only grown heavier in middle age, her desire to understand it unabated. How I Learned To Drive, opening tonight in a first-rate Manhattan Theatre Club production at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, stars Parker as a woman looking back on, and struggling to make sense of, her relationship with her abusive Uncle Peck (Morse).
TimeOut Review of How I Learned to Drive
Most good theater lives on, if it’s lucky, only in the memory of those who saw it. Manhattan Theatre Club’s revival of Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, one of the signal plays of the 1990s, represents an exception. With a firm eye on the rearview mirror, this production reunites director Mark Brokaw, who helmed the show’s premiere at the Vineyard in 1997, with its two exceptional original stars, Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse; also along for the ride is Johanna Day as the principal soloist in the show’s Greek Chorus of three, plus lighting designer Mark McCullough and sound designer David Van Tieghem. After more than a quarter of a century, they all move assuredly in old roles as the play shifts back into gear. That is not to say that How I Learned to Drive is ever quite a comfortable experience. The subject of Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize–winning drama is childhood sexual abuse, and although it treats this question with complexity and tact—there is nothing exploitive about it—it gives you a cumulative sense of the creeps. … Parker puts her gift for playing smart, broken women to powerful use as our narrator, known as Li’l Bit. … On Broadway, both the writing and the production sometimes feel a little small for the space. This is a play that thrives on, and plays with, the whole idea of intimacy; ideally, you should feel its breath on your neck a bit. But How I Learned to Drive remains incisive and affecting.
Vulture Review of How I Learned to Drive
Paula Vogel’s play has been around so long, and been so widely studied and awarded, it changed the American theater. When the drama first appeared downtown at the Vineyard Theater in 1997, it crashed through barriers, through taboos, preconceptions, formal cowardice. Dealing with heavy topics like pedophilia and family complicity, its postmodern storytelling was somehow featherlight, even funny. It was accessible and serious, excoriating and full of forgiveness. So in the years that followed — particularly after it won the Pulitzer Prize — the memory play became our pattern book. If it no longer seems groundbreaking, it’s because Drive was groundtilling. … I realize that doesn’t make it sound like a fun 100 minutes in the theater. And Brokaw’s production does show a few cracks: The glowing screens (designed by Rachel Hauck) are unhandsome; David Van Tieghem’s sound design does not always amplify the actors sufficiently. But the chance to see these performers doing such incandescent work should shoulder all such concerns aside. See it for Parker, see it for Morse. Drive is also — and I’m sorry this is such an uncool way to put it — the truth.