Actor explores gray areas at Station
URBANA — Actor Thom Miller jokes that he's a little concerned about a couple of the roles he's played at the Station Theatre.
One was the priest in "Doubt" who may or may not have sexually abused boys.
The other is Uncle Peck in Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, "How I Learned to Drive," which opened Thursday night at the Station.
A World War II veteran, Uncle Peck has, let's say, an unhealthy relationship with Li'l Bit, his niece by marriage.
"Uncle Peck is not totally evil," Miller said. "He has issues but as an actor it's more interesting to play characters with gray areas."
A writer himself, Miller is taking cues from Vogel's script that Peck might have been sexually abused himself.
"Whether the audience picks that up or not, it's definitely there," said Miller, who teaches part time in the University of Illinois Department of Theatre and is fitness director at The Fitness Center.
Miller acknowledges that "How I Learned to Drive," which premiered off-Broadway in 1997, might be a hard sell to some.
"I think the main thing that's out there is that it's a play about a pedophile," he said. "It is and it isn't. It's about more than that."
Chris Taber, who plays Li'l Bit, would agree. She actually called "How I Learned to Drive" a love story, albeit a messed-up one.
"It will make the audience feel uncomfortable," she said. "It's a subject that's usually black and white and not more than 50 shades of gray.
"The audience is going to go away thinking, 'Wait, I thought I had a definition of what this is like and of people who do this.'"
As Li'l Bit, Taber narrates the action of the memory play, jumping back and forth in time.
"It's exactly how your memories flash in your head," said the actress, who teaches drama at Franklin Middle School in Champaign.
It's also about how the nostalgia of childhood can mask powerful demons, a Station Theatre news release states.
"Li'l Bit's relationship with her Uncle Peck is as sweet as it is lethal," it reads. "With razor-sharp skill, Vogel puts our collective definitions of love and family to the test. It's a play audiences will be debating long after the curtain descends."
However, Li'l Bit realizes at the end she's a survivor, unlike most members of her family.
"She survives but is not that person who's as good as new," said director Thom Schnarre, who calls the play a love story with thorns.
Schnarre, who teaches English at Parkland College, said the play is universal in that it's about relationships that are not good for you. But it differs in that Vogel brings that theme into an abuse narrative.
Besides Taber and Miller, other cast members are Nic Morse, Malia Andrus and Sarah Heier. The play will be presented without intermission; its running time is 90 minutes.
If you go
What: Celebration Company presents the drama "How I Learned to Drive" by Paula Vogel, directed by Thom Schnarre and starring Chris Taber and Thom Miller.
When: 8 p.m. today through Sunday, Oct. 10-14 and 17-20
Where: Station Theatre, 223 N. Broadway Ave., U
Tickets: $10 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; $15 on Fridays and Saturdays ($1 discount, available upon request, for students with ID and seniors 62 and older)
Reservations: 384-4000; http://www.stationtheatre.com