Published: 12:05 AM, Thu November, 15 2018
By ERIC McCREA
Memory has a reputation for playing tricks, but Paula Vogel’s intense retrospective drama “How I Learned to Drive” is hard-hitting and intense. Fortunately, the theater department at Youngstown State University has talented students who are up to the challenge.
Rosie Bresson plays Lil’ Bit, the central figure and occasional narrator. The timeline revisits her past, filling in pieces of the story and revealing pieces of Bit’s past, with a broad metaphor about driving lessons as a unifying theme.
As the past is revealed, the audience learns more about Bit’s family and how much they knew about her disturbing relationship with her uncle Peck (Mason Edmunds). At first, it seems like it could be a harmless flirtation, with her grandmother explaining that age was not a factor in choosing a spouse when she was married. But as the story develops, it becomes clear that Bit never stood a chance, as everyone seemed to suspect something but never said anything.
Bresson was phenomenal as Bit. She was able to instantly age or regress as the story jumped from year to year. Her voice and mannerisms, even the confidence in her posture changed as her character navigated her memories. She rejected an air of victimization and stood strong, unashamed of her past, with a strong future.
Edmunds was impressive as Uncle Peck. Every line he spoke felt like perfectly gilded swamp scum. The nature of his character is made clear early on, but Edmunds was devoted to the role. Playing a villain is ineffective if you don’t commit to the character’s distorted reality, and Edmunds showed no fear.
Madeline Pomeroy, a member of the chorus who played Bit’s grandmother, was capable at portraying someone beyond her years, and succinctly captured that laissez-faire attitude of familial relations.
Dakota Naples gave a warm take on Bit’s mother, and she handled a lengthy speech about a lady’s behavior with alcohol with a subtle distaste that echoed the tone of the play.
Nicholas Wix, the final member of the chorus, had smaller but more plentiful parts, which allowed him to show more range. His nerd at the school dance role was an audience favorite, and his take on Bit’s grandfather, Big Papa, was dripping with misogyny.
Director Pat Foltz knew she had a strong script on her hands and allowed it to shine. Keeping the set bare, with minimal props and limited costume changes, allowed the actors to become engrossed in the structured format and dialog.
Voiceover work from Nick Mulichak mimicking a vintage driving film and multimedia projections on an old billboard accented the show and helped the audience follow the shifting timeframe.
“How I Learned to Drive” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Spotlight Theater, inside Bliss Hall, at YSU. For reservations call 330-941-3105.