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Champlain College Players learn to drive

The opening night performance of Paula Vogels Pulitzer-prize-winning How I Learned to Drive at Champlain Colleges Alumni Auditorium stumbled a bit too much for this audience member to be enchanted entirely with the performance although the play certainly is a well structured and thoughtful work, and one which, even under the circumstances of Wednesday nights opening, engaged the predominantly college-age audience entirely. It is no wonder director Joanne Ferrell wanted to direct this play. The premise of the play is not a happy one. It deals with a young girl (Lil Bit), who acts as the narrator and who is in her early teens when she begins slowly to be inducted into sexual activity by her aunts husband, Uncle Peck. The rest of the cast performs a double function as a chorus commenting on the actions and as individual characters in the family and among friends (one male and three females). As Lil Bit explains at the outset of the play, her family has always been very sexually oriented, explaining such things as the origin of her name and the name of her grandfather, both of which explanations is sexually specific. Building on that background, the course of the story is inevitable and tragic, because the fruits of the relationship between Li'l Bit and her Uncle Peck are very bitter indeed. Janice Gohm Webster is an ideal Li'l Bit. She tells the story with feeling and acts the part with conviction; for the play to be truly successful, however, she needed help from the rest of the cast. As Uncle Peck, Kevin Christopher was very phlegmatic, in fact so phlegmatic that one wondered if he had a pulse at times. There was no sly charm in the man that would indicate why Li'l Bit was at all attracted to him, and he presents a man more of the character of the protagonist in Maughams Of Human Bondage, except that Uncle Peck never rebels, and retreats with his tail between his legs when his wife discovers what is going on. As capable as Christopher may be, he certainly doesnt have any conviction about his character that show on stage. The members of the chorus are Jordan Zehr, Suzanne Pugliese, Nichole Magoon, and Rebecca Schmidt. They are variously able to bring characters to life, and several of them went up on lines a number of times during the evening. Magoon really did not understand the mother at all; Pugliese had most of the grandmothers character down, including her long-suffering acceptance of her husband's almost-satyriasistic behaviors, but she should have stretched more, could have felt the indignity of the almost-rape perpetrated by her husband on her almost daily throughout her whole married life this is a play about women and their helplessness in the world of men as presented in this play. Schmidt did one of the best jobs after Webster, showing us a rather mouse like character who, though she never says it out loud, thinks her husband is too good for her, and when she finally acknowledges the truth of her niece's and husbands relationship, she is really angry, but blames the wrong person, probably knowingly. Zehr played the grandfather fairly well, but he missed a chance for a laugh when later on as another character he is being discussed as having a high-pitched voice especially a good laugh if he got considerably higher in pitch than his natural speaking voice. The set and costumes were fine, as was the lighting. Ferrells direction seemed to stay out of the way of the plays intent, but the pantomiming needed to have been rehearsed a great deal more frequently than it may have been. Choice of music, if not dictated in the script to any extent, was to the point. It is worth going to see this play, they should have the lines down pat by now, and if you have older teenagers, I would almost call it a must-see. Burlington resident Dan Wolfe observes and critiques the local arts scene for the Times Sentinel. His column appears weekly.

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