PANAMA CITY — Back when Steve Martin was still funny, he released an album titled “Comedy is not Pretty.”
It doesn’t make linear sense in that I always think of that title when I’m talking to someone about art. That is, I can’t draw a direct correlation between the two, though I know the connection exists.
I was thinking about that Tuesday evening as I watched a rehearsal of a scene from “How I Learned to Drive,” the latest production by the Division of Visual and Performing Arts at Gulf Coast State College. I’m not familiar with the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Paula Vogel, except from what the actors and director related to me, but I’m guessing it’s not pretty, either.
Art is often not pretty. It takes us as creatures with a shared origin and common ways of viewing the world to uncomfortable places to examine parts of our human psyche that we’d rather not bring into the light. The things that scare us about the strangers all around us. The things that possibly scare us about ourselves.
“How I Learned to Drive” is being presented in the Amelia Center Theatre Lab at GCSC, otherwise known as the “black box theater.” Seating is extremely limited and the audience is so close to the action that the space is often described as “intimate.”
Director Jason Hedden, associate professor, said that forced intimacy will likely make audience members uncomfortable as they view this play, which is about forced intimacy itself. He added that he would not be surprised if some of the viewers exit before the final bow.
“It’s right there in your face and hard to ignore,” Hedden said.
The story is introduced and narrated by a woman named “Li’l Bit,” who grew up in the 1960s and doesn’t have much in common with her family, according to a synopsis at Broadway.com. Her only connection is with her Uncle Peck, a troubled veteran who seems to be the only adult in her life willing to listen. The two begin spending a lot of time alone together when he starts teaching her to drive.
Driving becomes a metaphor for many things in the play, and their relationship leaves her damaged.
“I’m not a very touchy-feely person,” said Jennifer Fuller, who portrays Li’l Bit. Fuller most recently played Puck in GCSC’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“The show has kind of tested my boundaries, having to be close and comfortable with my fellow actors,” she said.
The show opens Friday night for a two-weekend run. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15, 16, 22 and 23; and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 16, 17, 23 and 24. Admission is $10, or free for GCSC students, faculty and staff with valid ID. Advance tickets are available online at GulfCoast.edu/arts.
This performance is for mature audiences only. The 90-minute show will be followed by a talkback with the director, cast and crew. The box office opens 1.5 hours before curtain. Details: email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 872-3886.