Mockingbird Theatre launched with the highly regarded The Laramie Project at Chapel off Chapel last year, their critically acclaimed season of Blue/Orange has just completed, and their latest project, the Pulitzer Prize winning How I Learned To Drive by Paula Vogel, opens May 3.
Actor Andrea McCannon has, she says, wanted to work with Mockingbird as soon as she saw their fantastic production of The Laramie Project last year. "It was a very accomplished production with terrific performances and I just thought 'I want to be a part of that'. When they announced their season I was blown away by the calibre of texts they had chosen. When I read Drive for the first time I fell in love with it. And the opportunity to play three different characters was a challenge too exciting to pass up."
The work received the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as being recognized with Obie, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards. Vogel tackles a controversial subject with conviction and surprising humour as the play powerfully and honestly deals with the taboo subject of paedophilia against the backdrop of rural Maryland. Rich fodder for McCannon who describes herself as an individual who is always interested in drama that explores the grey areas of human behaviour. "I don't believe that people are all good or all bad – there are complex reasons for why people do what they do," she says.
The play centres around Li'l Bit who, in 1962, is 11 years old and is given her first driving lesson by her Uncle Peck. It is during this time that their damaged, damaging and troubling relationship begins. Throughout it all Vogel does not assign blame – does not push a particular barrow, in fact – which, on this particular subject, may be disappointing to some. McCannon expresses it well: "That's not to excuse harmful behaviour, but just to say that if we write people off as evil, we fail to investigate what could have been done better to prevent the situation from ever happening. Li'l Bit is let down by many people in the play – not just Peck – but Peck is let down too – by a society that sent him off to war and failed to help him when he returned, and by a family that turns a blind eye to his behaviour. I think it's important to recognise that we as a society often fail to protect vulnerable people or to help troubled people for many complicated reasons."
How I Learned To Drive is in keeping with Mockingbird Theatre's continued effort to bring the community plays of substance and importance. Plays that question, challenge and prod the collective psyche. "I think this will be one of those plays that creates a lot of discussion, and probably some argument," says McCannon. "Some people won't like the fact that Peck isn't portrayed solely as a monster. Some people like their world to be black and white. I think if we can create a dialogue then that would be a wonderful thing."
Actor, Presenter and Voice Artist, McCannon trained with The Actor’s Company in London and The Rehearsal Room and 16th Street Actors Studio in Melbourne. Stage credits include ‘Requiem for the 20th Century’ for Theatre @ Risk, ‘Anhedonia’ for Fractured Femur Theatre, ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’, ‘Copenhagen’, ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and ‘Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth’ for PMD Productions, and ‘Girls Do Gertrude’ for Black Apple Theatre. TV credits include ‘City Homicide’, ‘Bed of Roses’ and ‘Rush’.
She is joined in this production by the talents of Jason Cavanagh, Sebastian Bertoli, Sarah Reuben and Juliet Hindmarsh along with director Chris Baldock. All are working towards creating that special something that will resonate long after the final bows. "Although, says McCannon, "the biggest challenge for me is the short rehearsal period. In independent theatre you often get rehearsal periods of around three months, which gives you a lot of time to explore who your character is and play around and experiment in rehearsal. For Drive that's all condensed into an intense one month period, so finding the qualities and motivations of the three different characters, plus learning an accent, all has to happen very quickly. It's a little scary, but very exciting. You have to just go for it in rehearsal, because there isn't time to get 'comfortable'!"
The intensive rehearsal process is a strategy Baldock uses consciously because it allows the creative collective to really work through scenes in an incredibly comprehensive way allowing elements to be explored and worked and established. McCannon has found the team very supportive. "We've had some interesting discussions, she says. "Sebastian and Juliet have very tough roles because they play the elderly grandparents, and Chris is asking for larger-than-life characters – but they've both embraced the challenge and I'm really enjoying interacting with their characters. Chris has done a very smart thing in keeping Peck and Li'l Bit's rehearsals separate from ours – so the family doesn't really know what goes on between those two when we're not there – but I'm looking forward to putting it all together next week."
How I learned To Drive traverses Li'l Bit's life from childhood to adulthood and brings us her story from a first person narration as harrowing as it is uplifting. Says McCannon about the play : "I think it's about the cycles of damage families do to each other for generations, but it's also about how it's possible to break the cycle, to rise above it – it's a message of hope that we can survive tremendous damage and find the strength to forgive, to love ourselves and to find freedom. It sounds strange given the subject matter, but I think it will be a very entertaining production. The family scenes in particular are high-energy, high-spirited and funny, and they will provide an important counterpoint to the difficult and unsettling scenes between Peck and Li'l Bit. The more we rehearse this play the more I appreciate the genius of Paula Vogel's writing – it's really just a brilliantly observed and structured piece of theatre."
How I learned To Drive opens May 3 @ 8PM at the Brunswick Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre, Cnr Glenlyon and Sydney Roads, Brunswick, VIC 3056
and runs Saturday 4 May at 8pm, Tuesday 7 May – Saturday 11 May at 8pm
Tuesday 14 May – Saturday 18 May at 8pm –
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