In Paula Vogel’s “How I Learned to Drive”, we follow our protagonist nicknamed “Lil Bit” on a gut wrenching, and downright disturbing journey through her adolescence, told as a series of narrations, monologues, and flashbacks with the occasional interjection of a PSA like voice over. The play recounts the physical and emotional abuse Lil Bit encountered from the ages of eleven to eighteen at the hands of her uncle Peck, while he teaches her to drive.
The main flaw I saw in Lil Bit was that she is too smart for her own good. You see this characteristic throughout the play as she manipulates Peck. For example, it was most obvious for me when their roles of adult and child are reversed, and Peck is explaining to Lil Bit what a good boy he has been for not drinking.
Knowing how much Peck lusts after her she offers him a reward for his good behavior in the form of undoing her bra. Another great example is when prior to her and peck going on a road trip and Lil Bit’s mother indicates that she has a sense of what Peck has on his mind, she responds by saying “I can take care of myself. And I can certainly handle uncle Peck.”
At this point in the story she is only eleven. It’s hard to imagine a child of that age so grown up emotionally. Overall, most of the characters had likeable qualities, with the exception of the grandmother. I didn’t really like the way she meddled in the Parenting of Lil Bit. I liked “Big Papa” the best. He’s a crabby old timer who speaks anything that comes into his head with reckless abandon. It brought me some levity in an otherwise melancholy play.
The climax of the play occurs on Lil Bit’s eighteenth birthday. She and Peck are in a hotel room, and she’s been ignoring peck for some time leading up to this meeting as he’s been sending her cards counting down to her birthday. Lil Bit is obviously conflicted about their relationship now that she has gotten older, but Peck is looking forward to a time when it’s not illegal for them to be together. This is creepy enough on its own, but when Peck drops the marriage bomb, the creep factor skyrockets. I was honestly disgusted at the idea of a man leaving his wife to be with his niece whom he has known since birth, blood related or not.
Prior to the climax, one major event occurs and that is in the monologue that Aunt Mary delivers indicating that she knows what’s going on between Peck and Lil bit. The words used during this monologue, indicate to me a couple of key points about this character. First of all she is very intelligent. Her thoughts are well put together and the words she uses indicates to me that she has some sort of education.
She is also very intuitive, she picks up on the subtle, non-verbal signals that peck gives off when he’s got something on his mind and presumably when he’s around Lil Bit. Also, the words used by Lil Bit in her different flashbacks have a direct correlation to her age. It’s obvious as you read them, that during the later ones she is forming more complex thoughts and emotions, which is indicative of growth.
For the music in this play, Paula Vogel suggested period correct music spanning two generations. She mentions Motown several times, as well as Roy Orbison and the Beach Boys. Most of this music is romantic and happy with little hints of sexuality and sometimes-pedophilic references. For some weird reason the voice of the announcer in my head was played by the Moviephone guy.
The car in the play was described as a Buick Riviera, but in my mind it was more like a Camaro or GTO. The main reason for this is the obvious relationship between Peck and his car. The way he describes the way the aggressive way men are taught to drive and the feeling of a cars’ response to your touch, just makes me think of those fast nimble sports cars. Taking place in the 1960’s, the costumes in my mind were bell-bottoms and flowered shirts, polyester leisure suits, and fringes all over the place. This was your typical 1960’s attire.
I believe the overall theme of this play is about the effect of time on relationships. The relationship between Peck and Lil Bit starts out strong, for her and fragile for him. She has a strong male figure giving her attention while he is nurturing a relationship that he knows is illegal and immoral. As time progresses, the roles ultimately reverse leaving Peck with much confidence in the relationship while Lil Bit comes to realize the truth about it which leads to its demise. It just goes to show that time will always change relationships, jus not always in the way you imagined.