Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer prize-winning play How I Learned To Drive, staged by Renegade Art and Theatre Society, breaks the silence on child sexual abuse

Most child sexual abusers are known to the victim, some of them even being a family’s closest relatives. Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer-prize winning play How I Learned To Drive exposes these and other dark secrets that surround child sexual abuse. City-based theatre group, Renegade Art and Theatre Society staged this powerful play at Alliance Francaise to a packed auditorium last week. The endeavour of the theatre group was to raise the level of debate on sensitive issues in society, and so they must be given credit for staging a production that forces one to question the very foundations upon which a family is based.

How I Learned To Drive tells the story of a teenager Li’l Bit, her relationship with her eccentric family and her paedophilic uncle, Peck. On the pretext of teaching Li’l Bit driving, Uncle Peck develops an affectionate relationship with her, which soon turns sexual.

The playwright clearly shows that child sexual abusers are often seemingly genial, even mild and unobtrusive. Their modus operandi is to earn the trust of children and confuse them into believing they love him or her. Uncle Peck, played convincingly by Mario Jerome, reflects each of these traits. Uncle Peck explains to his niece that he will not force her into a physical relationship without her “free will”, leaving Li’l Bit confused about her uncle’s intentions.

The play is interspersed with scenes of Li’l Bit, her mother and grandmother conversing about men, who they say are beasts with one-tracked minds. The irony is that none of these descriptions fit Uncle Peck, the man Li’l Bit must be most wary of.

Making the metaphor of manipulation and control through driving central to the production, the director Siddharth Selvaraj sensitively portrays the inner conflict that takes hold of Li’l Bit.

Selvaraj put much thought into the production, from stage design to movement. A painting of a road formed the backdrop to the stage with a projector down stage flashing transitions from one scene to the next. The action of the play occurs simultaneously, as the situation demanded, on two sides of the stage, making the scenes lively static.

The performances, though, were inconsistent. Some of the actors weren’t always in character and at times were hardly audible. The delightful and hilarious interaction among the three generation of women was watered down by the weak performances. Maliha Ibrahim put up a good performance in parts, though in others, she did not show inner conflict effectively.