The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater will present Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama How I Learned to Drive on March 6, 7, 8, 12, and 13 at 8:00 p.m. in the Marie and Edward Matthews ’53 Acting Studio at 185 Nassau Street. How I Learned to Drive is a warm, tragic, funny, and strikingly perceptive memory play in which a young woman named Li’l Bit looks back on her warped experience with love and struggles to forgive in the face of her past sexual trauma. This production will be directed by faculty member R.N. Sandberg and will feature senior Caroline Hertz as Li’l Bit. A talkback will follow the March 12 performance. Tickets are $12 general admission, $10 for students and seniors, and will be available through University Ticketing and at the door prior to each performance.
One of the most discomfiting love stories to emerge from the American theater, How I Learned to Drive follows the strained, sexual, romantic relationship between Li’l Bit and her aunt’s husband, Uncle Peck, from her childhood through her adolescence and into adulthood. Set mostly in rural Maryland, Vogel’s provocative play begins with Li’l Bit taking the audience through several decades of her life, going as far back as when she was eleven years old. Rather than following a chronological plot, Vogel has purposely rearranged the order of events to reflect the mysterious way that memories work. Over the course of the play, we learn that Li’l Bit, profoundly affected by her relationship with Peck and her family’s treatment of her, has alcoholic and perhaps even nascent pedophilic tendencies of her own. However, she may have the strength and self-knowledge to break the damaging cycle of dysfunction, gain insight into her uncle’s troubled psyche, and learn forgiveness.
How I Learned to Drive addresses difficult subject matter but does so with compassion, sophistication, and gentle humor. The drama seeks to help audiences grapple with troubling issues such as pedophilia and family dysfunction in a way that allows them to develop a greater understanding of these issues and the ability to respond to them constructively.
Vogel’s play won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Lortel Prize, the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and New York Drama Critics Awards for Best Play, as well as her second OBIE.
How I Learned to Drive was first produced by Vineyard Theatre in New York City in 1997. Its cast featured stars of stage and screen Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse. The acclaimed production won multiple Lucille Lortel Awards; a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor; and OBIE Awards for direction and Parker and Morse’s performances. How I Learned to Drive was revived in 2012 at Second Stage Theater in New York. This production was directed by recent Princeton faculty member Kate Whoriskey and starred Emily Reaser of Twilight and Grey’s Anatomy fame along with Tony Award-winner Norbert Leo Butz.
Hertz is pursuing a degree in English with a certificate in theater. “How I Learned to Drive is a play about survival, strength, and ascending beyond one’s victim status,” she notes. “It’s a play about treasuring the gifts we receive from the people we love, even if those people harm us. Most importantly, How I Learned to Drive is a love story. It’s a play that acknowledges that love is real, that love is immense, that love can be wonderful, and that love can be lethal. This play takes an issue that many cast in black and white terms, colors it in a million shades of grey, and then — the crucial step — at the final blackout, still demands that its audiences make the judgment that the events they just witnessed are part of a much broader cultural narrative of sexual assault that is never, ever, ever excusable.”
The ensemble cast also includes Jake Robertson ’15 as Uncle Peck, Sarah Cuneo ’15, Anna Aronson ’16, and Matt Volpe ’16.
Both a director and a playwright, R.N. Sandberg directed recent Lewis Center productions including Madman Robertson, Uncle Vanya, A Steady Rain, A Broad Abroad, and Fires in the Mirror, as well as Princeton Summer Theater productions of Gaslight and The Heidi Chronicles. His play, Roundelay, premiered at Passage Theater in 2013. His plays have been seen in Australia, Canada, England, Japan, Panama, and South Korea, as well as at theaters throughout the U.S. including the Barter, Dallas Children’s Theater, Providence Black Rep, Stages Repertory Theatre and Yale Cabaret. He has been commissioned by George Street Playhouse, McCarter Theatre, Metro Theater Company, and Seattle Children’s Theatre, among others. Sandberg is a Princeton alumnus and in 2014 received the University’s President’s Distinguished Teaching Award.
Vogel’s other plays include A Civil War Christmas, The Long Christmas Ride Home, The Mineola Twins, The Baltimore Waltz, Desdemona, The Oldest Profession, and most recently Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq. She is currently playwright in residence at the Yale Repertory Theatre, as well as an artistic associate at Long Wharf Theatre. Her most recent awards include the 2010 William Inge Festival Distinguished Achievement in the American Theatre Award (past recipients include Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, and August Wilson), the 2004 Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Guggenheim. She is also the namesake for two awards given to emerging playwrights: the Paula Vogel Award created by the American College Theatre Festival in 2003, and the Paula Vogel Award for Playwriting created by the Vineyard Theater in 2007.
The talkback following the March 12 performance will be led by Lewis Center faculty member Jill Dolan, who is Professor of Theater, Annan Professor in English, and Director of the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton.
Tickets for How I Learned to Drive are $12 general admission, $10 for students and seniors, and are available through Princeton University Ticketing by calling 609.258.9220, at the Frist Campus Center Ticket Office, and at the door prior to each performance.
The Lewis Center’s Program in Theater annually presents a major, professionally produced play, as well as a number of student senior thesis productions throughout the year. Other productions this season include the hit Broadway musical Spring Awakening; Hero, a new play based on interviews with Vietnam veterans and featuring aerial choreography; a new play based on 1960s counter-culture icon Ken Kesey; The Other Shore by Nobel Prize-winning playwright Gao Zingjian; Groove!, a new “experiential” musical; a one-woman cabaret performance of Stephen Sondheim songs; and a new play based on interviews with people impacted by depression.