Hard topics tackled in prize winning play

J’Mari Hughes – Reporter

The Pulitzer Prize winning play, “How I Learned to Drive,” came to the Kendall Drama Lab last week. Directed by Kaia Monroe Rarick, associate professor and chair of the theater department, the play tackled the sensitive topics of misogyny, pedophilia and incest.

Junior Julia Raucci said in taking the leading role, she underwent a difficult task. She said that her family never talks about such intense topics and that it was weird telling them she would star in a show regarding them.

The story followed Li’l Bit, played by Raucci, as she navigated through life with family, most notably her driving instructor and uncle Peck, played by Jason Carubia. The character took advantage of the girl, whose age ranged from child to adult throughout the performance. The show used metaphors on a screen such as “You and the Reverse Gear” and “Shifting forward from 2nd Gear” to compare driving to life experiences.

Despite Peck’s genuine love for his niece in the show, the character overstepped his boundaries, which marriage and family therapist Rebecca Harvey said happens when an adult loves a child, they can use their power to manipulate the child.

“It took a lot of preparation to get to this, but my director was amazing,” Raucci said. “She made us all feel so comfortable. It felt so natural to talk about this kind of thing.”

They and the other actors served as a Greek chorus, each taking on the role of multiple characters.

Nomblé Tanner, who made her first appearance on a Southern stage, said her favorite character was the “prideful woman of stature,” Aunt Mary, the wife of Uncle Peck and victim of adultery.

“She has this reputation, she doesn’t want it all to be taken apart,” she said. “She knows what Peck is doing to Li’l Bit but she chooses to ignore it all because of what he brings to her life. He’s her solace.”

Carubia, a senior and theater major called his role unfortunate as his character was a destructive influence on Li’l Bit’s life.

“It takes a very specific actor to tackle some of those demons that Peck has and I didn’t know if I had the time or the focus to really do him justice and make a role that was responsible to the subject matter,” he said.

Carubia also made it clear that each actor was appropriately approached with consent and respect prior to performing.

In a note from the director, Rarick said, “We must teach (children) that their right to physical privacy takes precedence over adult authors. Our conversations with them, uncomfortable as they may be, must go beyond ‘bathing suit areas.’”

Following the performance, professors specializing in therapy sat around to discuss with the audience things like sexual assault. Crowd members chimed in with questions and comments about their own personal experiences, some of which were shared on a mural outside of the theater.

“I’ve had people tell me about their experiences and it matches the show so clearly,” Raucci said.

“I took the feelings that I was having on stage and tried to carry them with bravery and empathy to make it as honest and genuine as I could.”

Cast members as well as audience members agreed that Southern was brave to take on intense topics and mature themes in a performance.

“Since Southern is a liberal arts school I definitely think they, of all places, would be very open-minded towards subjects like this,” said Jack Storm, one of the cast members. “With all the people sharing, we made it a very open and welcoming community so I think it was a perfect place to put this message out.”

Mustafa Bozan who attended the show for his theater class said his favorite part was the ending. The show closed with adult Li’l Bit as she shed herself from her past with Peck and headed towards her car to feel the freedom she felt while driving.

“And then,” she said upon putting her foot on the brake, “I floor it.”

Photo Credit: J’Mari Hughes

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