“How I Learned to Drive” Takes Audience on an Unexpected Ride
Aaron Krish

UW-Stevens Point’s Theatre and Dance Department closed their production of Paula Vogel’s “How I Learned to Drive” under the direction of Professor Jeffrey Stephens this past Saturday.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning play was written to seduce the audience by taking them on an unfamiliar ride and have them, in Vogel’s words, “view the world in a new and unexpected way.”

“Since I started here at Point, I’ve taught the play both in Script Analysis and Theatre Appreciation. The more I taught it, the more I realized we needed to do it because after discussing it in class, we need to see something move from the page to the stage,” Stephens said.

“How I Learned to Drive,” as explained by Jordan Krsnak who played Uncle Peck, is a memory play, a coming-of-age story and a love story. Through a series of scenes flashing back and forth in time, Li’l Bit, played by Kate VanderVelden, reveals the nature of the relationship between the two characters.

“It’s about a man who deeply loves his niece, a girl’s personal journey as she navigates the complex road of life, and the inappropriate, uncomfortable, unnatural—yet still loving—relationship between the two,” Krsnak said.

“The structure of the play is disorienting by design,” said dramaturge and English professor, Laurie Schmeling. “Sad, irreverent, provocative, and often surprisingly funny, it is an intentionally discomfiting play.”

The structure of the play is mostly non-linear because it is a memory play. The production crew wanted to format the show in a way that gave the impression of a memory. The tone and clarity of any given moment can shift suddenly.

“We felt it was important that the entire production reflect that fluidity, that it not be encumbered by overly realistic design elements. The stage is bare—just a series of ramps and playing spaces defined primarily through light,” Schmeling said.

Krsnak explained that the cast and crew did everything they could to create a specific interpretation of the show itself, one that was uniquely their own but staying true to Vogel’s script and how she envisioned it.

“Educationally, the structure of the play offers unique challenges and rewards to student artists,” Schmeling said. “Most importantly, it opens up important discussions about familial relationships, about the way our popular culture eroticizes young children, about the ways forgiveness can empower us, can help us heal—a whole host of deeply human issues.”

Krsnak and Schmeling agreedon on what they would like the audience to take away from this production. They both explained that, if anything, they want audience members to leave with something to think about and something to talk about.

“I do think it’s possible to make an emotional connection to a text just by reading it, but for a play to really colonize your head and heart, I think you need to see it move from the page to the stage and you need to trust it and not be afraid of it, whether because of the performance challenges or because of the subject matter,” Schmeling said.

“I gained a lot from performing in this production,” Krsnak said. “This play is a dream for an actor. It’s provocative and poignant, it’s challenging, it’s beautifully written, and it’s all about the acting. This has been an amazing and beneficial opportunity, one I’m very grateful for.”