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Theater Review: 'How I Learned to Drive' -- 3 stars

Elizabeth Reaser and Norbert Leo Butz in “How

Elizabeth Reaser and Norbert Leo Butz in “How I Learned to Drive.” (Joan Marcus) Credit: Elizabeth Reaser and Norbert Leo Butz in “How I Learned to Drive.” (Joan Marcus)

How I Learned to Drive
3 stars

More than a decade after winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Paula Vogel's "How I Learned to Drive" remains a dark and quirky romantic comedy involving incest and child molestation - one that is just as unsettling as it is entertaining.

Li'l Bit (Elizabeth Reaser), narrating to the audience, reminisces about her family and upbringing in 1960s rural Maryland.

As a young teenager, Li'l Bit is especially uncomfortable with her well-endowed body. At a school dance, she confides to her friends that she won't dance since the boys just want to see her "jiggle."

Li'l Bit's Uncle Peck (Norbert Leo Butz), unhappily married and a former alcoholic, takes unusual solace in his relationship with her. He first molests Li'l Bit when she's just a child from behind the wheel of a car. From then on, in between driving lessons, she permits him to touch her - though they never engage in sexual intercourse.

Kate Whoriskey's compelling revival, which takes place against a grassy countryside set with a full-size car situated in the background, is driven by an excellent ensemble that credibly depicts the odd and often painful relationships among the characters.

Reaser, who is best known for playing Esme Cullen in the "Twilight" films, gives an alluring turn that captures both Li'l Bit's uneasy discomfort in her youth and her maturity as an adult. Although the play has no nudity, Reaser's chest is certainly accentuated under her sweater.

Butz, a two-time Tony winner, sympathetically portrays Peck as an unhappy, nervous man who is clearly revived by an unhealthy relationship with his niece. Once she permanently severs that relationship, however, he has nothing left but to drink himself to death.


If you go: "How I Learned to Drive" plays at Second Stage Theatre through March 11. 305 W. 43rd St., 212-246-4422, 2st.com

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