By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Were this a network-TV drama, the moral cards would be obviously stacked on one side or another: Uncle Peck would be a generic creep, Li'l Bit a mere victim -- or perhaps a wrongful accuser who destroys his innocent life. In Brokaw's staging, however, Li'l Bit is a study in wilting resolve. She says no, means yes, and may be too young to know the difference. It takes her 18 years to finally make up her mind, and the cost to Peck is devastating.
Kerwin's dynamism and charm temper Peck's cagey abuse of the girl. Ringwald's performance is more perfunctory. She's stiff, ill-equipped to handle the sweeping style of direct audience address demanded of her, although her awkwardness serves her well in the more intimate, cinematic scenes.
Ringwald and Kerwin are the only actors in the five-member ensemble who don't double as other characters. Li'l Bit's mother (Johanna Day), grandmother (Rona Benson) and grandfather (Justin Hagan) also serve as a kind of Greek chorus for the action that plays out on set designer Narelle Sissons' stage, bare save for a few rudimentary items of portable furniture -- all framed by a proscenium of road-map motifs.
The play's moral neutrality toward its incendiary theme is perhaps its greatest appeal, and has led people to mistake it for a great play. Rather, it's a pretty good play with a few great scenes. But it's hampered by just as many generic ones -- Li'l Bit in the school shower, for instance, cringing as her classmates gape at her prodigious breasts. The writing in many of her "dates" on the road with Uncle Peck is also rather too familiar and obvious. Were these scenes not sparked by flickers of incest and pedophilia, they wouldn't even sustain our interest. Which makes How I Learned To Driverather like Lolitafor the tourist class, like surfing over a torrent rather than plunging into it. Nabokov it ain't.
WILL STRIP FOR FOOD | Written and performed by BETH BATES, CHRISTINA BEBES, SERA GAMBLE,
ANGIE GIBBS and RAELLE TUCKER | At GLAXA STUDIOS 3707 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake | Through March 13
HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE | By PAULA VOGEL | At the MARK
TAPER FORUM | 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown | Through April 14
The 20th annual L.A. WeeklyTheater Awards, with Circle X Theater Company, the cast of Naked Boys Singing!, Chris Wells, Karen Finley, Pasadena Shakespeare Company and others, will be held at the Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., downtown, on Monday, April 19, beginning at 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.); reception to follow. The posting of nominees can be found online at www.laweekly.com. Admission for all nominees plus one guest is free; for all others, $12. All queries and RSVPs can be made on the Awards hot line: (323) 993-3693. Please make checks payable to L.A. Weekly c/o Lisa Yu, 6715 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028. Checks must be received by April 4.