How I Learned to Drive

How I Learned to Drive

by Paula Vogel

The 1950s pop music accompanying Li'l Bit's excursion down memory lane cannot drown out the ghosts of her past.

Sweet recollections of driving with her beloved uncle intermingle with ons about the darker sides of life.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Plays
  • Rating: 3.88
  • Pages: 61
  • Publish Date: December 1st 1997 by Dramatists Play Service, Inc.
  • Isbn10: 082221623X
  • Isbn13: 9780822216230

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Looking to finish my year with a round number of books read, I selected Paula Vogel's Pulitzer winning drama How I Learned to Drive, a play with a double meaning that focuses on the difficult subject of sexual abuse and molestation. Employing a Greek chorus to show both flashbacks and later stages of Lil' Bit's life, Vogel shows how sexual molestation she was subject to as a child affected her throughout her life. Vogel points that an innuendo episode from when Lil' Bit turned eleven essentially ended her ownership of her body. I hoped and prayed that Vogel would allow Lil' Bit to have some ownership over her body as she has hinted that she is a smart student, leaving for college soon. Consequently, I awaited the scene where Lil' Bit finally leaves home and finds herself out of Peck's clutches, hopefully realizing how inappropriate his behavior toward her was when she enters into the company of less insular adults. While How I Learned to Drive may have been one of the most difficult reads that I have read this year, I found this play necessary as pedophilia is unfortunately an issue that is never going to go away. Having daughters at home, I found this play even more disturbing as Lil' Bit was abused from the time she was eleven or possibly younger.

I don't particularly care for the "Greek chorus" performing all the characters besides Lil'bit and Uncle Peck; I feel that in performance this would be akward and confusing.

I doubt the intent of the play is to portray a sad story of a man who is simply confused, but neither do I think we are supposed to have the conviction of his wife as to his moral character. These directions did help explain the multiple roles and time shifts, which may or may not be as effective in production. Maybe its just me, but I felt this was very powerful; one almost gets the sense that departing for college will mean the end of Peck and Lil Bit, but of course leaving things at that would be no fun. After a couple of rapid shifts of scene, the characters begin to develop and one becomes more interested in the relationship between Peck and Lil Bit.

And after the second act climax and a gentle denouement before the post-play discussion I lay on my back in the dark and I thought about you, Uncle Peck.

On the surface the story seems like a romance between a girl and a guy.

Vogel's How I Learned to Drive deals with some really tough topics, including incest, with equal parts humor and sensitivity.

This young girl's family is absolutely crazy and their dialogue is written in greek chorus style.

A productive playwright since the late 1970s, Vogel first came to national prominence with her AIDS-related seriocomedy The Baltimore Waltz, which won the Obie award for Best Play in 1992. She is best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning play How I Learned To Drive (1997), which examines the impact and echoes of child sexual abuse and incest. "She wants each play to be different in texture from those that have preceded it." Vogel, a renowned teacher of playwriting, counts among her former students Susan Smith Blackburn Prize-winner Bridget Carpenter, Obie Award-winner Adam Bock, MacArthur Fellow Sarah Ruhl, and Pulitzer Prize-winners Nilo Cruz and Lynn Nottage. During her two decades leading the graduate playwriting program and new play festival at Brown University, Vogel helped developed a nationally-recognized center for educational theatre, culminating in the creation of the Brown/Trinity Repertory Company Consortium with Oskar Eustis, then Trinity's artistic director, in 2002.