Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How I Leaned To Drive

Paula Vogel's award-winning 1997 play is receiving its first professional production since it premiered 15 years ago at the Vineyard Theater.   Second Stage Theatre is breathing new life into the uncomfortable subject matter of pedophilia, incest, and misogyny.

Dare I say, it's not one of those plays that will cause hoards of fans to mob the box office.  Exactly the opposite, I'm quite sure.   I think Second Stage knew that in order for this extremely difficult subject matter to succeed for even a brief run, it has to bring in a star.   In its prior incarnation, Mary Louise Parker was the draw.  In this rebirth, Norbert Leo Butz has the daunting task of playing Uncle Peck, a seemingly normal, affable, and likable man living with his family in rural Maryland in the 1960s.

Ms. Vogel's power is not in the overt, but in nuance and innuendo.  Uncle Peck never once physically harms his niece.  He is always proclaiming to be her protector.  Her friend.  He employs practically all the tools you would expect that a man of this kind would have in his repertoire.   Ms Vogel has cleverly woven in the analogy of literally learning how to drive a car with the figurative narrative and action on stage about growing up, innocence lost, co-dependent relationships, excuses, betrayal, and emotions of the characters.

I left the theater wondering why someone (specifically Mr. Butz) would want to take on this role.  I'm not sure I have an answer beyond "it certainly would be a challenge".   I left the theater in a reflective mood.  Not angry, not sad mostly thanks to Ms. Vogel's excellent crafting.  But I wondered exactly what Mr. Butz thinks when he leaves the theater each night.  There are absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever to his character.  None.