How I Learned to Drive uses a series of nonlinear scenes from the memory of Li’l Bit, who reveals her complex emotional and sexual relationship with her Uncle Peck. The scenes jump instantaneously back and forth in time on a neutral stage with minimal props. Li’l Bit is portrayed at various ages.
A one-act play, How I Learned to Drive begins with a disembodied voice saying “Safety First—You and Driver Education.” This technique is used throughout the play to indicate how and where each scene is located within the overall narrative. On a bare stage with only two chairs representing a Buick Riviera, Li’l Bit takes her place, in the present, speaking directly to the audience. She describes suburban Maryland in 1969 “before the malls took over.” A young Li’l Bit then steps into the scene, now seventeen years old. She is sitting in a parked car on a summer night with an older, married man—her Uncle Peck. In what appears to be a not completely unpleasant experience, Peck fondles and kisses Li’l Bit’s breasts.
Members of the Greek Chorus assume their roles as Li’l Bit’s relatives at a typical family dinner, which consists of vulgar jokes and crude comments about Li’l Bit’s well-endowed figure. A protective and gentle Uncle Peck shields Li’l Bit from the insults. The scene ends with Li’l Bit bartering a secret, late-night rendezvous with Peck in exchange for the keys to his car.
Li’l Bit informs the audience that, despite the many rumors as to why she was expelled from college, the real reason was most likely her excessive drinking and late-night road trips. Driving intoxicated on the Maryland beltway, she never received a ticket. Uncle Peck, she tells the audience, taught her well.
The action jumps backward to when Li’l Bit is sixteen and has just earned her driver’s license and Peck brings her to an elegant inn to celebrate. Peck has Li’l Bit served several cocktails. As Li’l Bit becomes increasingly intoxicated, the Female Greek Chorus comes forward in the role of mother to deliver a guide to “social drinking” while getting quite drunk herself. Dinner ends, and Peck carries the drunken and dizzy Li’l Bit back to the car. She flirts, then shies away from Peck, finally passionately kissing him in a moment of drunken confusion. Li’l Bit then expresses worry that what they are doing is wrong and will cause harm. Peck convinces her that the relationship will not progress until she wants it to, confident in the expectation that at some point in the future Li’l Bit will want to fully consummate the affair. The scene ends with Li’l Bit passed out in the seat beside Peck.
Peck takes little Cousin Bobby fishing. During the fishing lesson Peck employs his strategies...
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