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Theatre Review: How I Learned to Drive

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, May 24, 2012

Eleven years ago, I called Stephanie Gularte's performance in "How I Learned to Drive" a "breakthrough." She lived up to that accolade, and went on to become artistic director at Capital Stage, one of this areas hottest theatre companies.

This month Gularte is taking a second run at "How I Learned to Drive." Her role involves playing a character over decades, from age 11 through 38. But the core of the story involves Gularte as a nervy teenage beauty, sitting in a car next to her Uncle Peck as he explains the rules of the road. Peck is smooth and reassuring. But the guy's a groper.

Uncle Peck: "Now, both hands on the wheel. I never want to see you you driving with one hand. Always with two hands."

Lil' Bit: "If I put my hands on the wheel, how do I defend myself?"

Actor James Hiser, with his bald head and steady smile, radiates charm, even though what's happening in the car is wrong by any standard. And Peck ups the ante, taking the underage girl to an upscale restaurant.

Uncle Peck: "I asked you if you wanted a cocktail before dinner. It's nice to have a little something to go with the oysters."

Li'l Bit: "Peck, I'm not… legal. We could get arrested, they'll never believe I'm 21."

Uncle Peck: "So? Today we celebrate your driver's license, on the first try!"

Uncle Peck treats his teenage niece as a consenting adult, something she really enjoys. So she suppresses her alarm. And baby-step by baby-step, the slow-motion seduction advances.

This play is a tense portrait of coming-of-age on murky terms. And Gularte skillfully conveys the awkwardness of a teenager entering adulthood. Given the subject matter, this can be a hard show to watch. But this is an outstanding piece of work. And it's impressive to see how far Gularte has come since she first took on this challenging role a decade ago.
"How I Learned to Drive" continues at Sacramento's Capital Stage through June 17th.
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