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How I Learned to Drive

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Title: How I Learned to Drive  
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Subject: Paula Vogel, Second Stage Theatre, Curious Theatre Company, Helen Hayes Awards Resident Production, Mary-Louise Parker
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How I Learned to Drive

How I Learned to Drive
Written by Paula Vogel
Characters Li'l Bit
Uncle Peck
Male Greek Chorus
Female Greek Chorus
Teenage Greek Chorus
Date premiered March 16, 1997
Place premiered Vineyard Theatre
New York City, United States
Original language English
Genre Drama

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.


  • Plot synopsis 1
  • Productions 2
  • Awards and nominations 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Plot synopsis

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.


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:

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.

A 1997/98 season production at CENTERSTAGE in Baltimore (Center Stage) was directed by Barry Edelstein.

A 1998/99 season production at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. was directed by Molly Smith.

A 1999 production at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles featured Molly Ringwald and Brian Kerwin.

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.

L.A. Theatre Works has produced an audio performance of the play, starring Glenne Headly, Randall Arney, Joy Gregory, Paul Mercier, and Rondi Reed. Published on CD, ISBN 1-58081-188-4.

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".[1]

In 2012 Gregory Ramos.

In 2015, the play received its first professional London revival at Southwark Playhouse, starring Olivia Poulet as Li'l Bit and William Ellis as Peck, directed by Jack Sain, produced by D.E.M. Productions for Fools & Kings Theatre, with set & costume design by Katharine Heath, lighting design by Ziggy Jacobs, and composition and sound design by Nathan Klein.[2]

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
    • Direction
    • Playwrighting
  • Outer Critics Circle Award
    • Outstanding Off-Broadway play
  • New York Drama Critics Award
    • Best play


See also


  1. ^ Ben Brantley (February 14, 2012). "Going Along For the Ride With Uncle". New York Times. 
  2. ^ Theo Bosanquet (12 January 2015). "Olivia Poulet stars in How I Learned to Drive at Southwark Playhouse". Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  3. ^ Lortel listing
  • "How I Learned to Drive". ThatTheatreSite. 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-05. 
  • Paula Vogel (16 April 1998). (transcript). Interview with Elizabeth Farnsworth. The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. PBS Retrieved 2008-08-05. 

External links

  • How I Learned to Drive at the Internet off-Broadway Database
  • The Boston Phoenix interview, May 1998
  • How I Learned to DriveCurtainUp Review of
  • SET Groups Performance of "How I Learned to Drive", June 2010
  • How I Learned to Drive on the 2012 Second Stage Revival of The New York TimesBen Brantley in
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