How I Learned to Drive - Off-Broadway

Norbert Leo Butz stars in the revival of Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

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Story

What Is the Story of How I Learned to Drive?
Li’l Bit, so nicknamed at birth by her relations, serves as the narrator of her own life story in How I Learned to Drive. Growing up in in the 1960s in rural Maryland, Li’l Bit doesn’t have much in common with her family, among them a mother who got pregnant young, a grandmother who was a child bride and a sexist grandfather. Her only connection is with her Uncle Peck, a troubled veteran who married Li’l Bit’s aunt and seems to be the only adult in her life willing to listen. The two begin spending a lot of time alone together when he starts teaching her to drive. From childhood through her awkward adolescence and into her college days, Bit's relationship with Peck grows progressively more complicated and co-dependent, though it’s not until the very end of the play that we find out exactly when it turned dark.

Should I See It?

What Is How I Learned to Drive Like?
Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize-winning play begins with Li'l Bit directly addressing the audience on a summer night in 1969, when she is 17.  From that point, the show jumps back and forth in time to show us scenes from her childhood through her damaged college years. Three actors, who play all the other characters, make up a Greek chorus of sorts and introduce new sections of the show with chapter headings ripped from outdated driver instruction manuals, like “Idling in the Neutral Gear.” They help lead us through the jumbled chronology of Li’l Bit’s life, explaining the circumstances that drove Bit and Peck together.  The language, by turns colloquial and poetic, tells a story that is both tragic and unexpectedly funny. All the while, it leads audiences towards finding sympathy for characters they might never otherwise identify with. 

Is How I Learned to Drive good for kids?
Not so much. The topics in this play, as well as the vast moral gray area it calls home, are not exactly kid-friendly.  While calling it a play about pedophilia is taking a narrow view of things, How I Learned to Drive certainly centers on an unhealthy relationship between a young girl and a much older man, which would be very, very tough to explain to kids. Older teens, or those able to understand a less black-and-white world view, might find the moral ambiguity intriguing.

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