Review: “How I Learned to Drive” Accelerates at Circle Players

PISCATAWAY, NJ—Many have been waiting a long time for one of the many community theaters in our area to stage Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize winning metaphoric drama about the near-tragic character Lil’ bit and Circle’s production did not disappoint.

The play has heavy themes and spares no feelings when addressing pedophilia, alcoholism and misogyny.  All of these quiet horrors are told to us through point of view of a young girl coming of age in a dysfunctional family that makes no attempt to hide its passive sexual abuse of children and makes light of all this by ridiculing humor and sexual nicknames for each other.

Faith Dowgin, in the lead role of the morally conflicted Lil’ bit takes command of the stage with a strong sense of who the character is and takes us into the psyche of this pitiful and exploited young girl.  In one of Dowgin's best performances yet, she didn’t miss a beat in this demanding and emotional role.

Five stars go to Todd W. Jones, whose subtle performance as the charming, yet monstrous Uncle Beck was one of the best I’ve seen in long time. He could have easily overdone it, but he didn’t.

Heidi Hart showed her own acting chops as Uncle Peck’s wife Mary, a woman shrouded in mink and in denial about her husband’s sexual obsession with their niece.

Mike Sunburg and Kristin Bennett, the remaining Chorus players added their own credibility to this well-done drama.

There are some minor flaws. The sound system at Circle leaves something to be desired, but it doesn’t impact "How I Learned to Drive."

Seating at Circle can also be problematic. Those minor inconveniences aside; this was one of the best nights of theater this reviewer had in a long time.

When the Perry Awards come around next September, it would be surprising if this production did not receive multiple nominations.

The play is now closed, but a list of upcoming productions is available at the Circle Players website.