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Two Years Later: Alyssa May Gold and How I Learned to Drive Accelerate to Broadway

Gold joins Mary-Louise Parker, David Morse, Johanna Day, and Chris Myers in the Broadway premiere of Paula Vogel's Pulitzer-winning dark comedy.

Two years ago, theater productions were shut down across the world. This is the second in a series spotlighting the Broadway productions getting ready to open this spring, and which are now getting to start their runs.

Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive was in rehearsals when the world shut down. The Manhattan Theatre Club production was something of a novelty: a Broadway transfer more than two decades after the play had its premiere, reuniting the director, Mark Brokaw, and three original cast members, Mary-Louise Parker, David Morse, and Johanna Day. Rounding out the company are Chris Myers and Alyssa May Gold.

On a break from rehearsals, and in anticipation of finally taking the stage at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre starting tonight, Gold told us about what it's like to re-rehearse the piece and finish it.

Alyssa May Gold
(image provided by the production)

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What does it feel like to be back in the room?
I mean, it's thrilling. I'm so happy. And it also has been so strange. It feels like we picked up four days later like we were told we would. It doesn't feel like it's been two years. The same spikes are on the floor and the same chairs are in the same places, and we're putting back together what we had been working on, but it's two years later and we're all carrying the weight of not even just the pandemic anymore, but two years of what the world has been like.

This past weekend, we talked a lot about how March 12 was the day we all got sent home and how we were about to do the last scene of the play and never got there. And yesterday, we ran the whole play for the first time and we got to see how our production ends. It took two years to the day to actually make it to the end. I have this feeling of both closure and opening — closure of the 2020 portion and what we were working on then, and opening it up to share with people. That's what this whole process feels like.

I can't even imagine what this whole experience has been like for Mary-Louise and David and Johanna and Paula and Mark.
I can't either. Mark said something really beautiful on our first day back. He was thinking about how the time lost was actually time gained, because the play has been working on us for two years without us actually working on it. So now add 23 years of this play for them, and also the injustice of it having not been on Broadway. I got one of the published editions of it and in Paula's introduction, she talked about how it had been in such far-flung places across the world and in theaters bigger than Broadway theaters, but there was this idea that somehow it isn't universal enough, or whatever reason people had been coming up with for 23 years.

Was How I Learned to Drive a seminal play in your theatrical upbringing?
I read it for the first time for my audition, which is unacceptable. But I got the audition in the middle of leaving a very unhealthy situation in my own life and I was wrestling with the idea of how it happened. I'm a smart, self-aware person and I didn't understand what happened. And I got this play, I read it, and I understood. The play came to me in the moment I needed it, and had I read it before that exact moment, I'd still think it was one of the best plays I'd ever read, but without the sense of "this play just healed me." I finished it and was like, "I would love to be in that, but if I'm not, thank God I read it." I now had this understanding of how people work on each other in good and bad ways, and the way that abuse thrives on positive reinforcement.

David Morse, Alyssa May Gold, Johanna Day, Paula Vogel, Mary-Louise Parker, Mark Brokaw, and Chris Myers make up the How I Learned to Drive team.
(© David Gordon)

How are Mary-Louise and David and Johanna approaching the script? Is it a new play for them, or are they picking up where they left off, 25 years later?
We spent a fair amount of time at the table with them really re-examining it, and for me and Chris Myers to experience it for the first time. They are discovering this as a new play, because it's 25 years later and they're different people and the world is different. But what's cool is that there isn't a sense of "We can't do what we did before, so we have to make new choices that don't make sense." The original production is still very much in all of them, and what worked last time worked for a reason. It's been a really interesting combination of both those things, and they've been very generous in making room for two new people with two new perspectives coming in and offering what we see as outsiders.

You made your Broadway debut as an understudy in Arcadia. Do you view this as your "official" debut? And if so, how do you feel about that?
I do. It's two very different jobs. This one is creating the character that's going to exist in this production and then maintaining and sharing that every night. The responsibility of an understudy is to be ready and able to take something that someone else created and then make it as true as they did without the repetition, which is a technique and skill set that is unmatched.

This feels monumental to me, in the responsibility of creating something and sharing it every night. Our Dear Dead Drug Lord was my first experience of doing that and I remember being so relieved because I'd never done a long run before and there was always the fear in my mind of hating it or getting bored. But we were coming up on our 10th show of Christmas week and I was just like "bring it!"

That's the thing that feels most special — I want to do this every night and I want to share this with people every night, and I get to do it. I sat and watched the run-through we did yesterday, and it felt like I was getting to see glimmers of what happened 25 years ago, but deeper in some way. I think people are going to be really moved.

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