Friday, March 15, 2013

'How I Learned to Drive' a story of empowerment

Actors find balance portraying emotionally charged issues

by Camille Adams, A&E Writer and Katelynn Padron, Guest Writer

The latest production from Pacific Lutheran University drives home intense messages concerning misplaced love and twisted family relationships.

“How I Learned To Drive” is a play written by Paula Vogel focusing on a family in the 1960s whose female members are objectified by everyone in their social spheres.

The main conflict surrounds the juvenile protagonist Lil’ Bit and her complicated relationship with her Uncle Peck.

However, Lil’ Bit’s mother, aunt and grandmother also experience conflict with the men in their lives and their perceptions of their own bodies.

When preparing for the show, senior Jack Sorensen was faced with the difficult task of portraying Uncle Peck, a character seen by most as downright immoral.

However, Sorensen, aided by a well-crafted script, skillfully presented a well-rounded character with human struggles that have stretched his moral boundaries.

Sorensen said he “took extra note of times when Uncle Peck is an emotional victim, essentially, when he is weak and just as lost as anyone else.”

Sorensen’s portrayal allowed the audience to almost sympathize with Uncle Peck and come closer to understanding how such real life situations occur.

On the other hand, junior Ali Schultz played to perfection a vulnerable, young female from the ages of 11 to 35.

She presents Lil’ Bit as a rational and intelligent young woman who can still be driven by an overwhelming need for love, leading her to overlook questionable motives.

The angle Lori Lee Wallace, the play’s director and assistant professor of theatre, said she would like the audience to perceive is how each woman refuses to see herself as a victim and thereby embraces empowerment.

While these undertones were present, they were predominant in the main character and lacking in the rest of the female roles.

What the cast communicated beautifully was the raw human elements behind the morally confused actions of the characters.

“In rehearsals, I wanted every scene between Uncle Peck and Lil’ Bit to walk a tightrope,” Wallace said. “Jack [Sorensen] and Ali [Schultz] did a great job of finding this balance.”

“How I Learned To Drive” deals with emotionally charged issues and therefore poses a challenge for both the director and cast to tackle.

The whole ensemble did a masterful job of protecting the audience from emotional overdose through acted symbolism and voice overs, insinuating more intense circumstances.

Rather than visually presenting moments of sexual violation, actions were merely suggested or represented without the use of physical contact.

Kait Mahoney, who portrays a number of roles, including Uncle Peck’s wife and Lil Bit’s mother, said “theatre is a shared experience with no screen to get in the way. Everything you project, you know it’s hitting someone somewhere, and you can’t give too much or a wall goes up.”

The cast gracefully tiptoed around the delicate subject matter, preventing such a wall from rising while simultaneously conveying the emotion the plot required.

Vogel’s eloquent script adds significantly to this emotional weaning for the audience.

“By the end of the show, we are emotionally ready and able to forgive Uncle Peck like Lil’ Bit does,”  Wallace said.

Although at times the messages of empowerment and forgiveness are indirect, the cast, script and on-stage direction articulated the overall content of the play well.

“How I Learned to Drive,” is a heavy but impactful viewer experience.

The show, which opened last weekend, will continue to run tonight, tomorrow and Sunday in the Eastvold Studio Theater.