Incest. Manipulation. Perversion.
These are some of the disturbing thoughts that were brought to life in “How I Learned to Drive” by Paula Vogel, performed on campus Nov. 21 and 23.
“How I Learned to Drive” is a 1998 Pulitzer Prize winning play, addressing childhood sexual abuse and the psychological toll that accompanies it.
Student performers who played the roles of victim and sexual predator talked about their feelings in a talkback session after the play opening night.
Hosted by Student Life and the theater department, it was a time for the audience to ask questions about what had taken place on stage.
Director Brent Noel opened discussion by asking the audience what they had felt about the play. The unanimous decision appeared to be that the play was very dark and disturbing.
Actors were in the same boat.
“This is difficult stuff for them to deal with as actors,” Noel said. “They had to go in some areas that were really uncomfortable.”
Noel was referring to the main characters, an older Uncle Peck and his 17-year-old niece, Lil’ Bit, having to touch one another in inappropriate ways.
In nearly every scene with Uncle Peck and Lil’ Bit, Peck tries calmly to convince his niece that it is OK for these sexual actions to take place. And on multiple occasions it worked. There were graphic scenes where Uncle Peck would grope Little Bit with or without her permission.
Noel noted the mental discomfort of always being in this depressing state. The play is meant to make the audience uncomfortable and take them to a dark place, Noel said.
Watching it may cause the audience’s skin to crawl, but it took a much greater toll on the actors.
They had to become these characters, committing and being victimized in these sexually perverted acts.
Tiffane Shorter and Connor J. Marshall, the two main characters, said they managed by detaching themselves from the characters they portrayed.
They were asked how difficult it was to prepare for the more graphic and intimate scenes of the play.
“I knew that it was just happening to a character,” said Shorter, theater major.
Marshall had the same mindset.
“None of what Uncle Peck did was me,” said Marshall, also a theater major. “I tried to be as subjective as possible and mold myself into whatever that character needed.”
Student Ashley Milligan played the role of Female Greek Chorus, essentially Lil’ Bit’s memories of her childhood.
She said the cast had to get close to each other to make this play easier to tackle.
“We hung out outside of rehearsal,” Milligan said. “We went out to dinner and hung out on Halloween.”
So the comfort factor and being able to keep the mood light-hearted are what made the transition into this play achievable, she said.
“They had to be comfortable enough with each other to trust each other as they go on this journey of inappropriateness,” Noel said.
Weather forced the cancellation of the Friday night show, Nov. 22. Saturday night was the final performance.
For more information, call Noel at 405-6682-7246.