On Thursday, Nov. 30, Theatre NDSU opened their second show of the season, “How I Learned to Drive,” in the intimate Walsh Studio Theatre.
Paula Vogel’s 1997 play, set in the late ’60s to early ’70s, is a drama best viewed in close quarters. The story centers on Lil’ Bit, a girl who fluctuates between teenage-dom to early adulthood throughout the play.
Starting at age 35, Lil’ Bit recalls the past few years of her life up until age 11. Slowly, the events of her past creep onto the stage: Uncle Peck lurks in the background, barely illuminated. Her mother warns her about the hazards of drinking with a man alone. Her grandparents’ unfulfilled marriage colors her mother’s life, her life.
The audience is left piecing together what exactly happened until the uncomfortable climax, leaving shock, disgust and fear in its wake.
Vogel’s play addresses difficult issues, including sexual assault, absent families and the difficulties of growing up.
Anchoring the strong subject matter of this play are the equally strong actors. Senior Abigail Gilbert shines as Lil’ Bit, easily transforming from adulthood reconciliation to youthful fear of not fitting in to a teenager coming to the shattering realization that what her uncle did was wrong.
With Gilbert as Lil’ Bit conflicting feelings aren’t limited to scene changes. Within the scenes, Gilbert is raw and real. Every line is delivered with confidence and conviction, creating the character beyond the costume, the set or just strictly the dialogue. Her body language, her emotion constructs the scene around her character.
The second main character, Uncle Peck, is played by another senior, Alex Kleven. Uncle Peck gives off the air of calming presence: collected, cool and conciliatory. He is Lil’ Bit’s friend in her rocky family group.
However, his presence in Lil’ Bit’s life quickly turns from father-like care to inappropriate physicality. He’s not a likable character — but as Lil’ Bit struggles with her feelings about Uncle Peck, the audience feels compelled to follow her lead and share her conflicted emotions.
Outside of the characters, the set is literally the road of Lil’ Bit’s life. On either end of the road is a projector, bringing the outside world into the theatre. Accompanying each projector is also a physical set: the front seat of a car and a family dinner table, providing the main physical sets of the production.
This provides the scenes for crucial moments in Lil’ Bit’s story, which is incredibly relatable: cars and the family dinner table are where plenty of memories are made, both good and bad.
Once again, Theatre NDSU has put on a performance that will make audience members engaged and is sure to lead to residual questions and a crucial discussion.
“How I Learned to Drive” continues this week from Wednesday, Dec. 6 through Saturday, Dec. 10.
On Wednesday, Theatre NDSU will join NDSU’s Women’s Activist Organization, Women and Gender Studies Department and Share.Survive.Thrive Organization in a special performance of the play.
After the show, representatives of the following groups will be leading a discussion about themes addressed in the play.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, please visit NDSU Counseling Center’s website for help, resources and information.