No Refund Theatre Presents: ‘How I Learned To Drive’
No Refund Theatre returned with the first production of its fall catalog, titled “How I Learned to Drive.” The play surrounds the story of a young girl named “Lil’ Bit,” who became the victim of a sexually abusive relationship with her uncle throughout her childhood. Written in 1997 by Paula Vogel, the play’s overall dark theme is intertwined with moments of humor to break the intensity.
“I connect to what Paula Vogel is writing about, and I think she does it in a very honest way that makes me feel heard and seen,” director Ryder Quiggle said.
The play, set mostly in the 1960s in rural Maryland, showcases a masterful blend of storytelling techniques that allows the audience to delve into the world of its characters. In some of its most serious moments, amid escalating anxiety, a brief moment of humor is found, making it easier to relax.
At the start of the show, Lil’ Bit, played by Judith Oller, was dressed in an ensemble of a blue cardigan, blue blouse, and blue jeans. The character’s uncle Peck, played by Jason Scansaroli, wore cream-colored pants, a brown belt, and a tan checkered shirt, setting the tone for their complex relationship.
Although dramas are uncommon for NRT performances, Quiggle said he preferred them over comedies and was determined to make it work.
“I started to read the script and by like the 10th page of the script, I was absolutely in and I was like, ‘I need to do this show,’” Quiggle said.
After nervously proposing the topic to NRT, it was approved and Quiggle felt he had full support regardless of the sensitivity of the topic. In order to make sure all participants in the show felt as comfortable as they could, Quiggle began putting in place certain protocols to help people feel safe.
“Before we even started, we had statements go out to people who were looking to audition and explained to them how the process would go and how we would discuss everything that was going to happen on stage together… Every time we got to one of these scenes where physical contact is happening, we took it very slowly and went beat by beat, word by word, marking each movement and making sure everyone was comfortable with it,” Quiggle said.
In order to prepare for the role of Lil’ Bit, Oller appreciated the amount of collaboration that went into the production.
“There was a surprising amount of group discussions and teamwork, actually, between Scansy and I, kind of figuring out, ‘Well, I say this… maybe that would imply this. And if I say this, how would she react to that?’ I’ve never focused so much on individual lines as I have in this script,” Oller said.
Throughout the play, there were multiple beautiful monologues delivered by several different characters, all sparking varying emotions. The set was designed minimally but beautifully, with road signs to remind audience members of Lil’ Bit’s road lessons of life.
There was an incorporation of the two lecture screens on the corner sides of the wall, which listed different acts and the year and age of Lil’ Bit throughout her life.
Cast and crew members alike said there’s been a lot of anticipation regarding the response of the audience after they watch the show.
“You don’t expect this kind of thing on stage. You expect everything on stage to be a happy little musical, and then the deeper you delve into theater, the more you realize there are musicals that are really dark, and there are plays like this that are really, really dark. So I think people are going to be shocked. Just from the very first line, even,” Scansaroli said.
Three performances of “How I Learned to Drive” will be held at 9 p.m. on Thursday, September 14, and at 8 p.m. on September 15 and 16, in Forum 111. All NRT performances are free of charge.
A trigger warning is emphasized for sexual assault, domestic and sexual abuse, incest, language, and sexual harassment.
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