How I Learned to Drive
|How I Learned to Drive|
|Written by||Paula Vogel|
Lil' Bit's mother
Lil' Bit's grandmother
Lil' Bit's grandfather
|Date premiered||March 16, 1997|
|Place premiered||Vineyard Theatre
New York City, United States
How I Learned to Drive is a play written by the American playwright Paula Vogel. The play was premiered on March 16, 1997, off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre. Vogel received the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the work. It was written and developed at the Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska, with Molly Smith as artistic director.
The story follows the strained, sexual relationship between Li'l Bit and her aunt's husband, Uncle Peck, from her adolescence through her teenage years into college and beyond. Using the metaphor of driving and the issues of pedophilia, incest, and misogyny, the play explores the ideas of control and manipulation.
Li'l Bit grows up in rural Maryland during the 1960s with a large extended family: her mother, who became pregnant at a young age; her grandmother, a God-fearing former child-bride; her ignorant, sexist grandfather; her Uncle Peck, who has been affected by experiences in combat and is a recovering alcoholic; and Aunt Mary, who is in denial of her husband's behavior.
In 1962, when Li'l Bit is 11, Uncle Peck gives her a driving lesson, during which he molests her. Li'l Bit is too young to understand what has happened and, while her mother suspects that Peck has an unhealthy interest in his niece, she does nothing about it.
Years pass and Li'l Bit enters puberty. Though she is quite intelligent, her classmates recognize her only for her large breasts. Peck continues to molest her, at one point using his amateur photo studio to take provocative pictures of her. Though he makes her uncomfortable, Peck is the only member of her family who is nice to her and supportive of her plans to go to college. He continues to give Li'l Bit driving lessons, and when she drives she develops a feeling of control that she does not have in her home life.
Peck attempts to convince Li'l Bit to have sex with him, but Li'l Bit rejects his advances, albeit reluctantly; since they are both "outsiders" in their family, she feels an odd kinship with him. Li'l Bit goes to college, and is surprised to receive gifts from Uncle Peck in the mail, along with letters counting down to her eighteenth birthday.
When she turns eighteen, she confronts Uncle Peck. He has been hoping to finally have sex with her now that she is a legal adult, but more than that, he wants her to marry him. Li'l Bit refuses and permanently severs their relationship.
Narrating as an adult, Li'l Bit reveals that she was eventually expelled from college and that Uncle Peck drank himself to death. Li'l Bit admits that she wishes that she could ask Uncle Peck about his life. She wonders who violated him to make him this way. This gives her a sense of forgiveness for his wrongdoings. She concludes that he did give her something valuable: the freedom she feels only when she drives.
The play is told through a series of flashbacks under the guise of driving lessons. Only Li'l Bit and Uncle Peck are full characters; all other family members are represented with the Female Greek Chorus, Teenage Greek Chorus, and Male Greek Chorus. The only family member not represented in the choruses is BB (or Bobby), Li'l Bit's cousin. The script alludes to BB's death during a fishing lesson with Uncle Peck.
How I Learned to Drive was first produced by Vineyard Theatre (Douglas Aibel, Artistic Director; Jon Nakagawa, Managing Director) in New York City in February 1997. It was directed by Mark Brokaw, the set design was by Narelle Sissons, the costume design was by Jess Goldstein, the lighting design was by Mark McCullough, the original sound design was by David van Tieghem, and the production stage manager was Thea Bradshaw Gillies. The cast was as follows:
- Li'l Bit played by Mary-Louise Parker
- Uncle Peck played by David Morse
- Male Greek Chorus played by Michael Showalter
- Female Greek Chorus played by Johanna Day
- Teenage Greek Chorus played by Kerry O'Malley
- Greek chorus leader played by Ethan Atkins
The Vineyard Theatre production, in association with Daryl Roth and Roy Gabay, moved to the Century Theatre in April, 1997. Bruce Davison and Jayne Atkinson took over the lead roles. Molly Ringwald stepped into the role in October 1997. The Male Greek Chorus was played by Christopher Duva.
In 2006 the play was produced by the T. Schreiber Studio and Theater in New York City. This critically acclaimed production was directed by Terry Schreiber and received 10 New York Innovative Theatre (NYIT) Award nominations. Trey Gibbons won the NYIT Award for Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role for his performance in this production.
In 2012 Second Stage Theatre produced the first professional production of the play in New York City since its premiere in 1997. The work is directed by Kate Whoriskey and stars Norbert Leo Butz as Uncle Peck and Elizabeth Reaser as Li'l Bit. The production opened February 13, 2012 and was favorably reviewed by the New York Times, saying "It is a performance that captures Ms. Vogel's remarkable, clear-eyed empathy in portraying the incalculable damage done by damaged people".
In 2012 University of Vermont's Department of Theatre produced the play to be viewed and workshoped with Ms. Vogel. Natalie Battistone and Colby Morgan played the lead roles. The production was directed by Department of Theatre Chair Gregory Ramos.
Awards and nominations
- The Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1998)
- Off-Broadway Lucille Lortel Awards (1997)
- Outstanding play
- Outstanding Director (Mark Brokaw)
- Outstanding Actress (Mary-Louise Parker)
- Outstanding Actor (David Morse)
- Drama Desk Awards (1997)
- Outstanding play
- Outstanding Actor in a play
- Outstanding Director of a play
- Obie Award (1996–1997)
- Performance, David Morse
- Performance, Mary-Louise Parker
- Outer Critics Circle Award
- Outstanding Off-Broadway play
- New York Drama Critics Award
- Best play
- Ben Brantley (February 14, 2012). "Going Along For the Ride With Uncle". New York Times.
- Lortel listing
- "How I Learned to Drive". ThatTheatreSite. 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-05.
- Paula Vogel (16 April 1998) (transcript). with Elizabeth Farnsworth. The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. PBS. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment/jan-june98/play_4-16.html. Retrieved 2008-08-05.
- How I Learned to Drive at the Internet off-Broadway Database
- The Boston Phoenix interview, May 1998
- CurtainUp Review of How I Learned to Drive
- SET Groups Performance of "How I Learned to Drive", June 2010
- Ben Brantley in The New York Times on the 2012 Second Stage Revival of How I Learned to Drive