Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

How I Learned to Drive
Round House Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of Broadway Center Stage: Little Shop of Horrors

Emily Townley, Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan,
Daven Ralston, Peter O'Connor, and Craig Wallace

Photo by Lilly King
Paula Vogel's play How I Learned to Drive premiered in 1997—a time when not many people were speaking about women, sexual abuse, and the influences of society—and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama the following year. The production of the play now at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland, sensitively directed by Amber Paige McGinnis and anchored by Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan's riveting performance, demonstrates how such situations are never as simple as an aggressor and a victim, and how the conversation continues in the #metoo era.

The pre-show music surrounds the audience with pop songs of the 1960s, which take on a decidedly creepy tone in this context: "You're Sixteen, You're Beautiful, and You're Mine," "This Girl Is a Woman Now," and other odes to the allure of teenage girls. This is the world in which Li'l Bit (Keegan) comes of age in suburban Maryland, defining her relationship with her affable Uncle Peck (Peter O'Connor). He teaches her to drive on the back roads and he's the only member of her family who supports her desire to go to college and build her own life—but he also spends years grooming her for molestation.

Vogel has written the play as Li'l Bit's memories, bouncing back and forward in time. The audience sees her trying to deal with the lewdness and disdain of her grandfather (Craig Wallace), who sees her only as a voluptuous body; the helplessness of her mother (Emily Townley), who advises her on ways to stay ladylike while drinking the men under the table; the puritanical rants of her grandmother (Daven Ralston); and the way she feels like a stranger in her own body among her classmates. After spending time with them, she appreciates that Peck talks to her about serious issues and trusts that he won't do anything she doesn't want him to do—but the boundaries keep shifting.

O'Connor captures the charm that keeps Peck from being utterly repellant; his wife Mary (also Townley) talks about how he's the good neighbor everyone wants to have around. His ultimate collapse is genuinely sad.

Paige Hathaway's scenic design is plain and stark, almost temple-like, with steps that fill the entire width of the stage and a smaller platform center stage. Jarod Mazzocchi's projections draw out the subtext of Vogel's sometimes elliptical scenes: images of pinups, glamorous models and sleek cars, and the countryside.

Round House Theatre
How I Learned to Drive
October 10th - November 4th, 2018
By Paula Vogel
Li'l Bit: Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan
Uncle Peck: Peter O'Connor
Female Greek Chorus: Emily Townley
Teenage Greek Chorus: Daven Ralston
Male Greek Chorus: Craig Wallace
Directed by Amber Paige McGinnis
4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD
Ticket Information: 240-564-1100 or