Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 7, 2019

REVIEW: Ghost Light Theater, How I Learned To Drive

Ghost Light Theater, Holyoke, MA
through July 13, 2019
by Konrad Rogowski

Ghost Light Theater’s production of Paula Vogel’s “How I Learned To Drive” takes on the topics of pedophilia and child abuse, as experienced by Lil Bit, (Carissa Dagenais), a child victimized from the age of eleven to eighteen by a predatory uncle (Gene Choquette). Under the pretext of “driving lessons,” the uncle plans to isolate and intimidate her.

Their story is told through a series of flashbacks, chronicling both family events and observations as played by a Greek style Chorus (Becky Rodia Schoenfeld, Hanna McCluskey, and Joshua Aaron Mason). Each portray  family members, school pals, or restaurant staff in various scenes. Additionally, these actors also create and disembodied voices who provide a subtext to Lil Bit’s unspoken struggle and ongoing victimization.

The various scenes are framed as aspects of a driving lesson, moving the victim through the stages/mechanics of driving, and paralleling those of the uncle’s ongoing grooming of his niece, drawing her deeper and deeper into his deception. Keeping the focus on the story and the acting, director Sue Dziura’s set consists of only four chairs, set on a blacktop colored floor with a double white line down the center. The chairs seamlessly become the front seat of the car, a dining room table, and a restaurant setting.

The cast performs this difficult play with a directness and focus, appropriate to the subject, and with a sensitivity to the journey that Lil Bit must experience. The show runs 90-minutes with no intermission. Those onstage and backstage bring a provocative script to light.