The University’s only student-run theatre troupe, The Opposite of People (TOOP), took theatergoers on quite a ride last week with their production of Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer-winning “How I Learned to Drive.” The audience watched as the protagonist, Lil’ Bit, recounted her tragic history growing up in 1960s Maryland, where prepubescent trauma continues to affect her adult life.The set designer, senior LaKiesha Holyfield, artfully broke up the Drama House stage according to the play’s various scenes, which included a kitchen, a hotel room, a photography studio, and the proverbial car in which Lil’ Bit learns to drive.

Freshman lighting designer Joseph Majesky complemented the set with illumination that delineated different scenes and highlighted the stages of Lil’ Bit’s life. The sound designers, senior Michael Mayor and junior Alison Schaefer, contrasted well-known period songs with silence to underscore Lil’ Bit’s feelings.

Lil’ Bit, played by freshman Amelia Norvell, opened the play by explaining her circumstances, then got into the car as she remembered driving with her Uncle Peck, played by junior Alex Montes. Within just the first scene, it became clear that she and her uncle, some 30 years her senior, had a romantic, though platonic, relationship. It was also clear that although a strong-willed young woman, Lil’ Bit was being taken advantage of by him.

The play continued from there in a non-linear fashion, taking Lil’ Bit’s perspective as she navigated memories of family dinners, high school events, and driving lessons with Uncle Peck.

The Greek Chorus members, sophomore Emma Guilfoyle and freshmen John Queenan III, Neha Jha, and Anna Llewelyn, convey the people and themes in Lil’ Bit’s life, including the chapter headings from her driving manual. Queenan did an excellent job as Lil’ Bit’s traditional, misogynistic grandfather, while Jha was hilarious as her misguided and sometimes tipsy mother. Llewelyn played the role of the grandmother, matching the grandfather’s intensity. Toward the end of the play, Guilfoyle, as Peck’s wife, delivered a piercing, yet misdirected, monologue against her niece’s actions.

Montes adeptly played the role of the predatory uncle, convincing the audience of his dark impulses. More than that, however, he acted as the dynamic human being that Vogel wrote him to be. Indeed, there came a moment when Montes’ portrayal of Peck’s desperation to hold onto his relationship with Lil’ Bit could not but elicit pity, even sympathy, from the audience.

The show never detracted from Lil’ Bit’s story thanks to Norvell’s astounding acting. To convincingly portray a character’s growth across many years without batting an eye is a feat unto itself. On top of that, she made the audience identify with the confusion and guilt Lil’ Bit felt at the hands of her uncle. When the lights came up on her for the first time, it was easy to misjudge Norvell based on her small stature and simple clothes. Then she started speaking, and everyone became riveted by her journey of self-acceptance, closure, and healing.

Junior Evelyn Hernandez, the director, clearly worked tirelessly with her actors, guiding them all to find depth in their characters. And the work paid off. TOOP’s “How I Learned to Drive” was a painful yet thought-provoking story about a woman coming to terms with the memories of an uncle who caused her so much trauma but also provided her the only way to escape it: the freedom of driving.

Libbey is a member of the class of 2016.

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