“How I Learned to Drive” is a gem of a production at The Chandler Studio Center

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AmyLyons90BY AMY LYONS

Yet another show shines in the capable hands of The Production Company, the ambitious theatre group that doesn’t let their shoebox-sized playing space at The Chandler Studio Theatre inhibit their finely crafted work. Paula Vogel’s “How I Learned to Drive” is the company’s latest offering, a coming of age story featuring a sexually abused girl slogging through the mire of pre- and post-adolescence only to arrive at adulthood reeling and running from an uncle’s relentless mind games and molestations.

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Joannna Strapp stars as Li’l Bit, the child we see grow into womanhood without much healthy nurturing from her Neanderthal family members. Seeking to replace an absentee father, Li’l Bit will do anything to please Uncle Peck (David Youse), who gives the girl her first driving lesson when she’s 11. But driving isn’t all the little kid learns about out there on the road, and Peck’s advances continue for several years while Li’l Bit becomes utterly confused about the nature of their relationship. Vogel, who earned a Pulitzer for the play, moves us through time in a non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth to let us see the ramifications of certain acts before they acts occur. As questions arise in our minds as to how characters arrived at certain points in their emotional development, Vogel flashes us back to the roots of various unfathomable behaviors.

The play is a gem and director August Viverito treats it as such. Strapp and Youse are exquisite dance partners in this waltz of shame, each actor taking turns at breaking our hearts and making us look beyond the black and white. Youse taps into the guilt-ridden compulsions that drive the deeply damaged Peck, revealing a festering illness of mind and soul upon which we take pity. Strapp alternately slinks, flirts and lashes out, a bubbling cauldron of self-loathing and shame always swirling at her character’s core. Each member of the ensemble — Jennifer Sorenson, Allie Grant and Skip Pipo – does his or her spot-on part to complete the dysfunctional yet forgiving picture.

Through February 20. The Chandler Studio Theatre, 12443 Chandler Blvd., North Hollywood. Call (800)838-3006.

Amy Lyons is a professional freelance journalist and theatre critic, with a degree in Theatre Arts and English from UMass, Boston. She started her journalism career at The Boston Globe and is a member of the Drama Critics Circle. Her articles, theatre reviews and photos regularly appear in numerous publications, including the Beverly Press, Valley Life Magazine, the Santa Monica Mirror and www.nohoartsdistrict.com

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.