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OnStage / Picks for a new year

Preview of HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, MAMMA MIA, and THE NETHER, plus this month on Buffalo stages


How I Learned to Drive, by Paula Vogel

at Subversive Theatre Collective

Director: Kelly Beuth

Cast: not available at press time


Paula Vogel’s 1998 Pulitzer-Prize-winning drama, How I Learned to Drive, hasn’t aged, which isn’t something you can say about many plays that premiered nearly two decades ago. The story is as stirring and stunning as it was then, so much so that a 2012 New York City revival garnered as much praise as the original.


How I Learned to Drive is a portrait of sexual abuse and incest, with well-rounded characters that put names and faces to this epidemic, as opposed to statistics and generalities. It shows the way in which all are affected, and ultimately how all choose to move forward with their lives, or not,” previews director Kelly Beuth, who first saw the show at the former Studio Arena, not long after it first came out, and knew it was a show she’d someday like to direct. “I have held the script all these years, waiting for the right time and place to do it. I chose this play, as well as Slut, the Play, my other Subversive piece this year, because all of the comments, stories, and events of the past couple of years in particular, many of them straight from the mouth of our president, have fueled a fire in me that pervasive rape culture needs to be addressed. It is not okay to, ‘Grab ’em by the pussy,’ it is not okay to take advantage of young women and girls who are just discovering their sexuality, and it is not okay to treat women as less than men in any situation. I live my life as a staunch feminist, and, as a teacher, I guide my girls to respect themselves and their bodies, and stand up for what they deserve. Sadly, we have been dealing with these issues throughout time, with little to no advances in changing the culture around us.”


Beuth concedes that one of the trickier parts of presenting this play is directing the actor who plays, Peck, the abuser, who possesses many likable characteristics. “It will be a challenge to walk that fine line of portraying him as a whole character, with his many likable attributes, and not allowing the audience to forget that he is indeed a sexual predator, preying on Lil Bit and her youthful vulnerability,” Beuth says. “I hope this play will encourage dialogue of how we can better protect our young women and girls, how we can raise our men to respect, and how we can change the climate of society.”            

How I Learned To Drive begins at Subversive Theatre Collective January 18 (subversivetheatre.org, 408-0499)



DON’T MISS: Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus’ Mamma Mia! at Kavinoky


Mamma Mia! is already a beloved musical—fun story and fun music both—but this production is extra anticipatory for two reasons:


1) Director Lynne Kurdziel Formato, who returned to town to direct The Producers at the start of the season, proved how her command can create a lush and cohesive musical that has people excited about theater (The Producers sold out almost its entire run); she’ll no doubt repeat with Mamma Mia!


2) Mamma Mia!’s been touring so long that it hasn’t been available to local talent—until now. For Buffalo theater fans who revel in seeing local favorites in favorite roles, this is a feast: the core six characters in this show are played by Debbie Pappas Sham, Loraine O’Donnell, Lisa Ludwig, Peter Palmisano, Matt Witten, and Doug Weyand! Get your tickets now.       


>> Mamma Mia! runs at Kavinoky January 5–28 (kavinokytheatre.com, 829-7668).



Quick six: The Nether, by Jennifer Haley at Road Less Traveled


Synopsis: Sometime in the near future, the Internet has evolved into the “Nether,” a place where gender, age, identity, and truth are malleable, and your darkest desires are all-too-obtainable—but not without far and real-world consequences.


The Nether had its world premiere in 2013 at Los Angeles’ Kirk Douglas Theatre, where it won seven Ovation Awards (the LA version of the Arties), including Playwriting for an Original Play.


Playwright Jennifer Haley studied at Brown University under Paula Vogel, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning How I Learned To Drive opens at Subversive the day before The Nether.

Where most playwrights are told to “write about what scares you,” Vogel advised Haley to “write what you hate.” For Haley and The Nether, that began with CSI-style police procedural shows.


What they said: “What elevates the play far beyond the realm of a superlatively up-to-date episode of The Twilight Zone is that its concerns run deeper than ethical lessons for a time when connections are less between people than circuits.”—Myron Meisel, The Hollywood Reporter


If you like the show, you can let Haley know on Twitter or Instagram at @jenhaley1000.



This month on Buffalo stages

(in order of closing):


>> The world premiere of David Moran’s An Inch Short & A Day Late runs January 4–20 at American Repertory Theater of Western New York (artofwny.com, 634-1102).

>> The Boy on the Edge of Everything has a brief run at Theatre of Youth from January 20–24 (theatreofyouth.org, 884-4400).

>> Mamma Mia! runs at Kavinoky January 5–28 (kavinokytheatre.com, 829-7668).

>> O’Connell and Company presents the one-man show, An Act of God, beginning January 11 (oconnellandcompany.com, 848-0800).

>> How I Learned To Drive begins at Subversive Theatre Collective January 18 (subversivetheatre.org, 408-0499).

>> The Constant Wife by W. Somerset Maugham opens January 19 at Irish Classical Theatre Company (irishclassicaltheatre.com, 853-4282).

>> Road Less Traveled Productions presents The Nether beginning January 19 (roadlesstraveledproductions.com; 629-3069).    


Playwright Donna Hoke writes about theater for Spree and Forever Young.


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