``How I Learned to Drive'' is a play about lessons, but they're not driving lessons.
Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize-winning play returns to Juneau for just two shows this weekend at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. Perseverance Theatre takes the show on tour next week, and will stage a dozen performances in Anchorage and Fairbanks this month.
``Drive'' is presented as a series of flashbacks. Li'l Bit, the lead character, opens the plays as a woman in her mid-30s telling the story of her childhood. The central element is her complex emotional and sexual relationship with her Uncle Peck.
Peter DuBois, a friend and former student of Vogel, is directing the play.
``I'm not directing this play as a big downer lecture,'' DuBois said. ``I know Paula did not write this play to become the poster child for incest.''
DuBois, Perseverance Theatre's artistic director, said Vogel's gift as a writer is her ability to use humor and to make the audience feel comfortable so sensitive issues can be addressed.
``That allows you to engage the themes, ideas and relationships that are difficult,'' he said. ``Comedy gives you access to tragedy.''
Li'l Bit's childhood is presented out of sequence, opening in 1969 when she is 17 and Uncle Peck is 44, and going back to 1962. The music and the tumult of the 1960s serves as the backdrop for the story of the evolution of their relationship.
Perseverance first staged the show in 1998, and a new cast is presenting ``Drive'' this time around. Marta Lastufka and Ed Christian play Li'l Bit and Uncle Peck.
``It's totally different,'' said Susan Wilder, who worked on the original production and is the stage manager for the touring show. She said Lastufka and Christian bring different sensibilities and life experiences to their portrayals, and a different emphasis to the theme.
``You see a little more how Li'l Bit was a participant in the relationship,'' she said.
Christian said he thought the version presented two years ago was a wonderful piece of work, but thinks the relationship between the two people is more understandable in the upcoming show.
``How did this happen? Why did this evolve? I think you understand the attraction both ways more,'' he said.
Christian said that there's no denying that Peck's sexual advances toward his niece make him a despicable character, but the situation and the story are not simply black and white.
``In the play you're kind of seduced along with Li'l Bit into liking him,'' he said.
The play also has a three-member ``Greek chorus,'' a group that serves to comment on the action as well as play different cameo roles.
``The idea of a Greek chorus serves as the voice of the community, and reveals the family that raised Li'l Bit. It also provides a very funny, vaudeville quality,'' DuBois said.
The voice of the community is important, because DuBois said an underlying theme of the play is that denial and unwillingness to confront suspicious behavior allows child abuse to happen.
``It takes a village to molest a child,'' DuBois said.
Lori Roland, Ekatrina Oleksa and Roblin Davis act as the chorus.
Li'l Bit opens the play with the line, ``Sometimes to tell a secret, you first have to teach a lesson.''
``The secret is what happened when she was 11, and the lesson is compassion and forgiveness,'' DuBois said.
``How I Learned to Drive'' shows at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. Admission is $22 for the general audience and $18 for students and seniors. The play is recommended for mature audiences.
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