MEG stages Pulitzer Prize winner 'How I Learned to Drive'
Since forming Maryland Entertainment Group about five years ago, co-founders Alyssa and Sam Little have not shied away from bringing edgy theater to Hagerstown.
But when Sam Little first approached Alyssa, who also happens to be his wife, about staging "How I Learned to Drive," she was not impressed.
"He kind of told me the topic of the show, and there are some taboo topics in the show, and I dismissed it, without even reading it. I said, 'No, I don't want to do that. I don't think we should do that show,'" Alyssa Little recalled before rehearsal last week at Hagerstown Community College's Black Box Theatre.
A few months went by, and Sam again nudged Alyssa about the 1998 Pulitzer-Prize winner and she agreed to read it.
"I was really moved by the story, and I think that it presents these kinds of taboo topics in a way that humanizes everyone involved in the situation," Alyssa said. "It doesn't paint anyone as an outright villain, it shows that there are circumstances in peoples' lives that lead to decisions that are made and obviously, individuals should take responsibility for bad decisions, but there are also lots of factors in play, lots of people that could've stopped things from happening along the way, and lots of things that may have happened to people in their lives that you know nothing about."
And beginning tonight, under the direction of Alyssa Little, Maryland Entertainment Group presents "How I Learned to Drive." The show is staged at 8 Thursday through Saturday, April 12 through 14, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 15, at the Black Box Theatre.
Sam Little plays Uncle Peck.
"Uncle Peck is a very interesting guy. He's a man who's dealing with a lot of demons in his life. Besides a very specific few problems that he has, he's generally a very nice guy, a very well-liked guy. But he is definitely dealing with some issues that make him a complicated person," he said.
Sam, who often directs MEG's plays, said it's a bit of a challenge to switch gears into an acting-only role for this production.
"Normally I do get a chance to kind of jump in and jump out and dictate what goes on. So it is interesting for me to take off my director's hat, and just perform and listen to the director and try to kind of silence my own directing instincts. And really focus on what I need to bring to it as an actor, and be there as an instrument for my director. So it's a very complicated thing for me to have to overcome, to make sure you really switch off one and turn on the other," he said.
Playing opposite Sam is Anna Kurtz of Gettysburg, Pa., as Li'l Bit, who is portrayed between the ages of 11 and 32.
Kurtz, who studied at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in England and has acted in the United States as far as Arizona, including playing Juliet on a cross-country tour, said she is embracing the challenge of playing a character through more than two decades of her life.
"I've been in plays where I played many different people, and (I) jump behind a screen and come out as a different person. It's really interesting to have to find the central characteristics of this woman throughout her life," Kurtz, 26, said.
Sam Little said "How I Learned to Drive" has been a favorite play of his since he was in college.
"To quote Paula Vogel who's the playwright, she said, 'It's a play about the gifts that we receive from the people that hurt us,' and I think that's such a wonderful way to describe this story. Because so many times in our lives we have these emotionally damaging relationships and yet there are definitely things that we take away from them. Lessons that we learn and that we use the rest of our lives so in some way they help us as well," he said.
Overall, the show is a winner, Sam Little said. "The play is funny, it's engaging and it makes you think. And I think those are the best elements of the best plays."
Kurtz said the show is relatable to family life. "I think people should come see it because everyone has a family that you might have somewhat mixed feelings about. At some point you have to learn to love them despite who they are so you can continue to grow."
Alyssa Little agreed.
"I think it's a Pulitzer-Prize winner for a reason. When I first read it, I made a list of all the topics it brings up and it's so extensive and I think that's part of what makes it this Pulitzer-Prize winner, it really delves into so many important topics, especially in the world of family life."
Top photo: Anna Kurtz, left, and Sam Little star in Maryland Entertainment Group’s production of the Pulitzer-Prize winning “How I Learned to Drive,” at Hagerstown Community College. (Photo by Perk Hull)