Pulitzer-winning play opens in Sarasota

FSU/Asolo Conservatory stages Vogel's 'How I Learned to Drive'

February 13, 2014 

Allie Henkel and Matthew R. Olsen in FSU/Asolo Conservatory's production of Paula Vogel's "How I Learned to Drive." PUBLICITY PHOTO

Paula Vogel had a decent career going before 1997. Her plays "Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief" and "The Mineola Twins" were often produced in local and regional theaters around the country, and in 1992 her AIDS-related play "The Baltimore Waltz" won the Obie Award for Best Play.

But it was 1997's "How I Learned to Drive," which won four Obie Awards (for outstanding play, director, actor and actress) and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, that cemented Vogel's reputation as a creator of harsh and inventive drama.

It's the next production from the Sarasota's FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training. It opens Feb. 18 and runs for three weeks.

The title sounds light-hearted, but the play is harrowing, and because of its subject matter, it's not for the squeamish.

Its central character is Li'l Bit, who's now grown and telling a story about her childhood and her twisted relationship with her uncle. Staring when she was 11 years old, her uncle gave her driving lessons, during which he molested her.

The subject matter and the play's odd structure -- the other members of the family are portrayed indirectly, through a modern equivalent of Greek choruses -- make Vogel's play a challenge for audiences. But its array of awards shows that the play can be a rewarding experience.

Details: Feb. 18-March 9 at the Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $28-$29. Information: 941-351-8000, www.asolorep.org.

-- Marty Clear

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