Nothing spins our moral compass and engages our rage machine more than pedophilia, the sexual abuse of children and adolescents.
It’s not a subject for the squeamish as we thrash in the bile of our revulsion and fumble for a language to express our shock and anger, but playwright Paula Vogel found a language and a narrative to jump-start the conversation when she wrote her play, “How I Learned to Drive” and went on to win the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
This weekend The Garfield Center for the Arts will present the play under the direction of the theatre’s visiting artistic program manager Jeff Woodbridge. Woodbridge has more than two decades of professional New York theater experience and wants to help shape the Garfield’s mission by offering plays that tackle some of the more challenging themes in our society.
“This play is about human complexity—it’s not a black and white world of predator and victim. It’s asking some very hard questions: are we able to have empathy or even compassion for damaged people doing damaging things,” Woodbridge says.
Vogel has thrown away the one-dimensional knee-jerk vilification of the pedophile and offers instead a portrait of Uncle Peck, a damaged war veteran, and his ‘special relationship’ with Li’l Bit, his niece. If it’s at all a play about sympathy, it’s not the kind of sympathy that rationalizes away the uncle’s moral failure, but a play about the two of them creating the watch works for the failure itself.
The play has some interesting Greek tragedy elements to its construction—a chorus plays conscience while an adult Li’l Bit narrates the past like a Sophoclean “Messenger,” in this case sifting through the wreckage of her childhood. What we begin to discover, however, is what we least expect—outcasts in their own ways, Uncle Peck and Li’l Bit sought shelter in the ruins of each other’s life. And they sought love and acceptance in the diseased shadows of those ruins.
“How I Learned to Drive” asks big questions. Can forgiveness heal? Do we as a community—nation—embrace the ethics we have created for ourselves? Vogel’s Greek chorus more than hints at the weight of these questions.
The cast includes Rachel Fisher as Li’l Bit, Paul Briggs as Uncle Peck, Julie Lawrence as the Female Greek Chorus, Bryan Betley as the Male Greek Chorus and Sharaea Tiller as the Teenage Greek Chorus.
“How I Learned to Drive, will be on stage at the Garfield Center at 8 p.m. May 30 and 31, and 2 p.m. June 1. Tickets are $15 and can be reserved by calling 410-810-2060, visiting garfieldcenter.org or emailing [email protected].