19-01-09 ARTS Play Reading

Actress and professional therapist Courtney Loving lauds the play’s nuanced approach to difficult topics.

Sawtooth Productions will continue its live play-reading series Thursday, Jan. 17, at the Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum. The free read-through of Paula Vogel’s popular play “How I Learned To Drive” will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Directed by Jon Kane, the reading stars local actors Courtney Loving, Richard Rush, Page Klune, Chris Carwithen and Rika Pere.

“How I Learned To Drive” premiered in 1997 and won Vogel the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Drama in the following year.

The play focuses on the turbulent teen years of Li’l Bit, a girl from rural Maryland who suffers sexual abuse from her Uncle Peck.

Told nonlinearly through Li’l Bit’s memories, “How I Learned To Drive” examines themes of misogyny, pedophilia, incest, alcoholism, sexual and psychological abuse and survival.

Those memories swirl obsessively around the driving lessons Li’l Bit received from her uncle, which he used as an excuse to get alone with her. Vogel presents driving as the central metaphor for her existential explorations.

The cast of five consists of two principals, filling the roles of Li’l Bit and Uncle Peck, and three Greek Chorus members, who occupy every other role in the play and help guide the audience through Li’l Bit’s memories and monologues.

The original Off-Broadway production starred Tony- and Golden Globe-winner Mary-Louise Parker as Li’l Bit and David Morse as Uncle Peck. Morse won several awards for his performance.

Other productions have included the likes of Michael Showalter, Bruce Davison, Jayne Atkinson, Molly Ringwald and local actress Natalie Battistone, co-founder of The Spot in Ketchum.

Sawtooth Productions’ upcoming reading builds upon this legacy of acclaimed cast members with its own local roster.

“We have such incredible talent in this valley,” Kane said, “and this is just a sampling.”

Loving, who plays Li’l Bit and has taken part in many past play readings, first suggested “How I Learned To Drive” to Kane.

As both an actress and a professional therapist in Ketchum, Loving spoke to the play’s deft handling of difficult psychological material.

“I hope people who come can see the humanity in both sides,” she said, referring to the complex characters of Li’l Bit and Uncle Peck. “That’s the only way to fix a problem—to see all sides of it.”

Vogel, while still portraying Peck’s abusive behavior as a horrific crime, does not simply vilify him. Instead, the play explores the roots of such wrongdoing and dares to ask why sexual predators commit their crimes. In doing so, Vogel acknowledges the psychological complexity of this issue.

“It’s a really timely piece given what’s going on in our culture and our society,” Kane said. “Things are changing. People are becoming much more aware [of sexual abuse]. This play talks about that in a very nuanced way.”

For more than 20 years, Sawtooth Productions has been presenting live readings of works by some of the world’s leading playwrights. Most recently, this included a staged read-through of Joan Didion’s autobiographical one-woman show “The Year of Magical Thinking,” starring Claudia McCain.

This is a free performance, and Sawtooth Productions will provide complimentary wine and cookies. Given the weight of the material, that might help lighten the mood.

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