How I Learned To Drive 

T. Schreiber Studio, 151 W. 26th St.

Coming-of-age stories are as plentiful as the twitchy ‘tweens they’re about, so it’s a pleasure when one stands out, be it through powerful storytelling, strong characterization and/or bang-up performances. Happily, T. Schreiber Studio’s production of Paula Vogel’s How I Learned To Drive does it right on all counts.

Led by beautiful Erika Sheffer, the excellent ensemble navigates artfully arranged flashbacks to weave the poignant tale of the emotional and sexual affair between a fatherless big-breasted girl and her aunt’s husband. Vogel’s play is twisted, smart (drive: metaphors for control, anyone?) and ultimately tragic, though shrewdly staggered moments of levity and candor keep it from Lifetime lows.

Sheffer is compelling as tortured Li’l Bit, though age-appropriate character shading throughout the 24-year stretch of flashbacks would have been welcome. Jess Draper’s Uncle Peck is caring and tender (ah, the softer side of pedophilia), somehow evoking sympathy… until Li’l Bit’s flashback of her first-ever driving lesson unexpectedly wrenches his crime into unforgiving focus. The effect — beautifully and painfully wrought  — is like being blindsided by a truck.

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